By Brad Gray At Rosehill Gardens
Most punters had thought they’d seen the last of Washington Heights in Sydney having raced for a year in Hong Kong but the late five-year-old made an emphatic return to Australian racing at Rosehill Gardens on Saturday.
The son of Commands had always been held in very high regard by his original trainer Gerald Ryan. He ran second to subsequent multiple Group One-winning colt Hallowed Crown on debut in the Group Three Kindergarten Stakes in 2014.
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“We had a good rap on him early in his career and he ran against some really good horses, Group horses. It was always the intention for him to go to Hong Kong and when he went sore we said can we have him back as a hack and David (Raphael) said you can put him back in training and have a go on softer tracks,” said an emotional Ryan.
“He is a very good horse. If he was a colt and had won one of those early two-year-old races he’d probably be at stud now. He was hidden in Rubick’s shadow being in the same year.
“Stallion Racing are great supporters (of ours) and it means a lot.”
Now connections are over the first hurdle of getting him back firing under the training of Ryan, what does the future hold?
“He has the potential to be a Group horse if we can keep him sound,” Ryan said.
“We’ll get through today first and we promised the boys that we’d keep him on softish tracks. I doubt he’ll be going to Melbourne or anywhere. There’s plenty of races here for him. Between now and the end of September the tracks don’t get that hard so he’ll miss the summer and come back for the autumn.”
Washington Heights hadn’t raced since May 2016 at Sha Tin but Ryan had no qualms with his fitness hence the unconventional preparation of one 740m trial just last Monday.
“A couple of times as a young horse I thought he needed the run first-up but he would run super and wouldn’t improve off it so that’s why we only gave him the short trial just to keep him ticking over,” Ryan explained.
“When he trialled on Monday he wouldn’t have blown a match out. He’d done a heap of work. People say it’s 416 days since he raced but he trialled in Hong Kong in December. He was back in quarantine and come home through New Zealand. He only had five weeks off here, then went to Limitless Lodge for six weeks and has been with me for six weeks.
“Right from when he first come back into the stables, Tim Boland had him early at Limitless Lodge and he did a lot of pre-training and rehabilitation there, and Tim told me at the end of April that this horse hasn’t gone back one step. Tim gets a lot of horses back from Hong Kong and believed that he came back a better horse from Hong Kong than he went there.”
Washington Heights settled second last in the run but the gaps appeared at the right time for Kerrin McEvoy to reel in the heavily-backed even money favourite Sir Plush.
“He is a big-striding horse and enjoyed switching off and coming home late. He has given me a nice feel there and has more to come,” McEvoy said.
“I left him alone early but didn’t expect to be that far back. I was shuffled back a little bit but I cut the corner and I was confident turning in that I was going to finish off. I knew I had a full tank of petrol left and a horse with a big, strong action.
“He has been competing at a high level so that was a good race to kick off in. He is up to racing in nice company over the spring.”