Toowoomba trainer Michael Nolan is upbeat about the chances of his versatile galloper Jumbo Prince ($7 on TAB fixed odds) who chases a well-deserved feature staying victory in Thursday's $160,000 McMullan Contracting Grafton Cup (2350m).
The rising seven-year-old has been an outstanding performer for the stable all his career, compiling an excellent record of 11 wins and 19 placings in his 50 starts. He has won races from 1050m to 1800m and has been placed up to 2400m.
Jumbo Prince, good enough as a sprinter to share a dead-heat win in the 2017 Weetwood Handicap (1200m) in Toowoomba, has also been placed in several feature staying events over the past few seasons, but just hasn't been able to land one.
The Outback Prince galloper's fine winter carnival résumé includes a one-length third in the 2015 Group 1 Qld Derby (2200m) behind Magicool and Werther, second in both the Ipswich Cup (2150m) and Caloundra Cup (2400m) in 2016; a third in the 2016 Grafton Cup (2350m) and another third in the 2017 Ipswich Cup (2150m).
He has returned prizemoney of just over $884,000 and a win on Thursday would put him within striking distance of the million-dollar prizemoney mark - not bad for a horse who cost a mere $8000.
"We bought him at the later Magic Millions sale held in March for just $8000.
There wouldn't be too many horses that cost so little who has won nearly a million. He's been an amazing horse for us," said Nolan. "He's run some terrific races in Ipswich Cups, Caloundra Cups and the Grafton Cup two years ago, so it would be nice to finally win one at Grafton on Thursday."
Nolan said Jumbo Prince was going as well as he ever has and is confident he will run well at his second attempt to land the Grafton Cup. He was beaten just over a length into third place behind Rednav and All Clear in the 2016 Grafton Cup.
The trainer was delighted with Jumbo Prince's last-start third to Divine Unicorn and Tradesman in the Group 3 Tatt's Cup (2200m) at Doomben on June 23 when he sat outside the leader for much of the race: "He ran out of his skin in the Tatt's Cup behind Divine Unicorn and Tradesman and that's the right form line in my opinion, going into a Grafton Cup," said Nolan.
"He had a bit of setback early in his prep and we decided to either set him for the Caloundra Cup or the Grafton Cup and elected to target Grafton. After his run in the Tatt's Cup I was convinced he was right on target for the Grafton Cup.
"I actually think he's going better now than he's ever been. That's hard to say about a horse that's had 50 starts, but he's a stronger horse now and he looks fantastic.
"When he ran in the Grafton Cup two years ago I wasn't all that confident, but this year I'm going down with some confidence, although he is weighted up to his best with 57.5kg. It's a four and a half hour trip for us down to Grafton and as long as he travels down okay, I think he'll run really well."
Nolan was happy to see the scratching on Tuesday of the Chris Waller-trained Sayed from the Cup and now rates the Chris Munce-trained First Crush ($3.80 favourite) as the one to beat: "I did think Sayed was the one to beat originally, so his scratching makes it slightly easier," said Nolan. "But Chris's (Munce) horse is also going really well and will be hard to beat."
First Crush can give Munce his first win in the Grafton Cup as a trainer. The former champion jockey rode two Grafton Cup winners - Count Scenario for Bede Murray in 1999 and Storm Hill for Tim Martin in 2005.
First Crush does look hard to beat in Thursday's feature on the back of his close second to Tradesman in the Ipswich Cup (2150m) on June 16 and another second to Megablast in the Caloundra Cup (2400m) at the Sunshine Coast on June 30.
Sayed's scratching gets first emergency, the Tamworth galloper Husonique ($71), into the 16-horse field. The Waller stable will still have two runners in the Cup - topweight Montauk ($7) and Tumultous ($13), who both drew outside barriers.