By Ray Hickson
Trainer Paul Messara admits he’d love to have two more weeks to prepare Caerless Choice for Sunday’s $150,000 H&NWRA Country Championships Qualifier (1400m) at Scone but won’t be using it as an excuse come race day.
Caerless Choice was unbeaten when he won the corresponding race last year first-up at just his fourth start then finished a close fourth in the Country Championships Final at Randwick.
On face value it appears he’s had a similar preparation but Messara said he’s a different horse in 2018.
“I think he’s got stronger this time in, it’s the best he’s ever done physically,’’ Messara said.
“He’s always been an immature type but just this preparation he’s started to thicken up.’’
The four-year-old recorded his fifth career win when he took out the Muswellbrook Cup back in early December and hasn’t raced since running sixth of seven at Randwick on January 6.
Messara said the shorter turnaround compared to last year represents a challenge.
“The horse is in good order but we’ve had a short-ish prep. I’d love to have a couple more weeks up my sleeve but nonetheless he’s in good order and he trialled well,’’ he said.
“I would have loved to have another trial leading into the race to have him cherry ripe.
“It’s a big carrot to dangle in front of us, and you don’t get many opportunities of qualifying, and while he is a chance it would have been nice to have another fortnight.’’
Despite that concern Messara believes Caerless Choice is the type of horse that can cope with a less than ideal preparation and is adamant he’s at least a top four contender with the nominal favourite Suncraze the horse to beat.
He trialled Caerless Choice on his home track at Scone on March 8, with race day jockey Mitchell Bell in the saddle, and finished second to Remittance, trained by Rod Northam, who is also likely to line up on Sunday.
“I didn’t want the trial to be too tolling on him. It had to be a firm trial without doing too much,’’ he said.
Caerless Choice runs second in his trial at Scone
“I couldn’t afford him to go through that phase where they are in recovery mode before they go forward. It was strong enough to get something out of it but gentle enough that it didn’t take too much away.
“He’s the type of horse we don’t have to ride aggressively. He’s an off the speed type. Luck in running and barriers, and the way the track plays on the day will play a significant role in where he finishes.’’
First and second from Sunday's Qualifier will earn a place in the $500,000 Country Championships Final (1400m) at Royal Randwick on April 7.
Meanwhile, Messara said lightly raced three-year-old Table Mountain will also line up at Scone on Sunday and while he’s not going to make it to the Australian Derby next month he’s a horse the trainer has some time for.
The gelding is likely to contest a Class 1 and Maiden Plate over 1600m having broken through for his first win at his fifth start at Muswellbrook on March 2.