By Ray Hickson
Trainer Tash Burleigh says the chance to run stable star Al Mah Haha in a TAB Highway was irresistible and she’s hoping he can end a big preparation with a win at Rosehill on Saturday.
You’d struggle to find a horse better placed in a race anywhere though Burleigh isn't taking the result for granted.
The six-year-old has won over $420,000 and is rated in the 90s after winning the Goulburn Cup in November in a preparation that included a sixth placing in the $1.3m The Kosciuszko and a game fifth, beaten 2.3 lengths, in the Group 2 Villiers Stakes last month.
But with three wins from 25 starts he’s still eligible for the TAB Highway Plate (1500m), a Class 3 race run under set weights conditions, where he’s thrown in under the weight scale with 59kg.
Burleigh said she thought Highways were off the radar due to his rating but was rapt to find Saturday’s race and extended his campaign.
“It turned out pretty lucky for him,’’ she said.
“We hadn’t really looked at Highways at all because we thought he was totally ineligible with the handicapping.
“It was a shame because he is still only a Class 3 country horse but when the Plate race came up he was going to go for a spell. I thought we’d hold on and have a go at that.
“He has been running nice races in much tougher company. It’s racing and you never know, we are going in hopeful but everything has to go his way. We don’t have it in the bag just yet.”
Al Mah Haha, $2.00 favourite with TAB, followed his Villiers run with a close up fifth behind Order Again and Soldier Of Love, who was a winner last Saturday, in a 1550m open handicap on the Kensington track on January 2.
Interestingly, the gelding has only contested two Highway races in his career to date, both Class 3s, for a pair of fourth placings back in April and May 2019.
“He has been thrown in the deep end many times now and he’s only getting better with racing,’’ Burleigh said.
“He still did a bit wrong in the Villiers, Jay (Ford) had to light him up a bit from the barriers to get a nice position and the horse took a few strides to settle.
“In time he will be suited at a distance like the mile but I think he will take a few runs over the distance to learn to settle and save the best until last.”
Ford is back on board Al Mah Haha at Rosehill and Burleigh said she’s rapt with the barrier draw of eight because he doesn’t appreciate being crowded on the fence.
She’d like to see him settle no worse than midfield, with cover, and have the chance to wind into the race unimpeded.
Nobody would begrudge the owners another win, since Burleigh took over Al Mah Haha in late 2018 he’s won a Country Championships Qualifier but they had to endure being scratched at the barriers in the 2019 Final.
He returned a year later to run second in the Qualifier and was nosed out by Gracie Belle in the 2020 Final, contested The Kosciuszko and capped off his year with that Goulburn Cup win where he beat Chat and 2019 Kosciuszko winner Handle The Truth.
Al Mah Haha wins the Goulburn Cup in November
“He’s just been a great horse for the owners, for the stable and myself and he still has more to give,’’ Burleigh said.
“He has come such a long way and they’d be just thrilled if he went out a winner.
"The owners are super keen and as a trainer you owe it to the owners and if any other trainer was in this position they would do the same thing.”
It’s unlikely Burleigh will have a runner in this year’s Newhaven Park Country Championships but she says to keep an eye on the lightly raced To The Nines who could be a 2022 contender.
The three-year-old won on debut in the spring and returned with a close third at Wagga on Australia Day at his second start so this years series has probably come up too soon.
“He put in a good run first-up at Wagga, he felt the pinch a bit the last bit. He’s a nice little horse and maturity is going to be the making of him,’’ she said.