By Ray Hickson
Jockey Ben Looker isn’t letting the outside barrier dull his confidence in Country Championships hero Victorem as he faces his biggest test at Hawkesbury on Saturday.
The exciting three-year-old, a winner of five of his six starts, is a dominant $2.90 favourite for the Group 3 $200,000 Blacktown Workers Group Hawkesbury Guineas (1400m) despite jumping from the outside in the 14 horse field.
Looker, though, said the best plan to have under such circumstances is to not be locked into any mindset and play the race as it unfolds.
“It’s not ideal drawing where we did but it’s not the end of the world,’’ he said.
“There’s no point going in with a plan to go forward or back because there’s no guarantee you’ll get in.
“I think there’s enough speed in the race that I won’t be trapped wide and I can get in somewhere. If I can follow something into the race at the 600m I have no doubt in my mind he can win.’’
Victorem handed Looker his biggest win when they raced away with the $500,000 Country Championships Final (1400m) at Randwick on April 7.
Punters Intel revealed Victorem’s last 600m was run in a slick 34.47, easily the best of the race, and he put the result beyond doubt with an 11.62 final 200m.
He went into the race having not raced since taking out the qualifier on his home track at Port Macquarie almost two months prior so there’s every reason to think he has some upside.
“Everything worked out beautifully until on straightening when I tried to force a run that shut on me,’’ Looker said.
“He relaxed really well, that’s the biggest thing for me, and he had that explosive turn of foot at the end of the 1400m.
“He had 48 days between runs into the Final so I’d say now having that three weeks between runs has him spot on for Saturday.’’
Trainer Jenny Graham took Victorem to Kempsey for a gallop on Monday with her daughter Melinda, who rides most of his work, putting him through his paces.
“Jenny said she thinks he’s improved from his Country Championships run and that’s a fair assumption since he’s only had six starts,’’ Looker said.
Victorem races away with the Country Championships Final at Randwick on April 7
“They thought he worked better than before the Championships.’’
The Country Championships Final has a short history with four runnings to date but it has already proven to be a birthplace for smart horses and Victorem is in line to be the third winner to take out a stakes race at his next start.
Inaugural winner Artlee followed his Randwick victory by winning the Listed Luskin Star Stakes at the Scone carnival before going on to be competitive in Group races until his career stalled with injury.
Of course, the 2016 winner Clearly Innocent also won the Luskin Star following his Championships victory and last year made the leap to Group 1 winner in Brisbane as well as contesting The Everest.
Looker has plenty of confidence in his charge and is excited at the prospect of his first black type win.
“Being a bush rider you don’t get to ride many good horses,’’ he said.
“The best horse I’ve ridden to date was (multiple stakes winner) Border Rebel and I think this fellow is every bit as good if not better. And he’s only a three-year-old.’’