By Tony Megahey
John Bateman has encountered cruel luck and adversity with previous stable stars, but emerging talent Nicconita can put the Goulburn trainer back in city focus at Royal Randwick on Saturday.
The three-year-old Nicconi filly contests a strong TAB Southern Cross Turf Class 3, $60,000 Highway Handicap (1200m) after impressive wins at Wagga and Goulburn since resuming from a spell. And the likelihood of continuing heavy going holds no fears for Bateman who has aspirations of bigger occasions for Nicconita as he finalises Christian Reith to ride at 54kg.
Bateman, the former long- time stable foreman for the late great Guy Walter, hit the heights in 2016. He won the Goulburn leg of the Country Championships with injury prone Lofty’s Menu who progressed to win eight races after successive leg surgeries, including Saturday grade at Rosehill Gardens. His quality mare Erika also looked set for similar success when she bolted away with a Rosehill Highway and three more races.
However in her prime Erika had to be retired to stud with serious injuries and Lofty’s Menu has had ongoing issues and lengthy time off.
“That’s racing,” Bateman said. “Lofty’s Menu is back in work and I’ve always had an opinion of this filly. She’ll handle the going if its heavy. She was dominant on a soft five at Wagga and then she closed off strongly again with a big weight winning at home.”
Nicconita was backed into a $1.50 that day and despite lumping 60kg, she came from near last to win by 1.7 lengths at Goulburn.
“Saturday is a suitable race for us at 1200m where she’s at this prep as she drops to 54kg,” Bateman said. “But of course she’s up in grade and it’s always a solid form race.”
Bateman is already convinced of his tactics with Reith.
“We’ll ride her back from the draw and let her settle where she’s comfortable and close off again,” he said. “That’s the way Nick Heywood has ridden her for both wins and he’s done most of the work with her. Nick can’t make the 54kg though so we’ve booked Christian Reith.
“This filly is still developing and she’ll get further. She’ll have this one, another race and we’ll turn her out and look to better races, hopefully the Country Championships.”
Heading the betting markets are My Blue Jeans, last week’s Rosehill Gardens Highway winner for Danny Williams, and Todd Howlett’s Magic Choir, also an impressive “Gardens” series winner in December. The 4kg weight rise to 59kg will be carefully assessed by the astute Williams in the testing conditions but significantly the striking grey gelding won his maiden on a heavy track at Canterbury Park.
Magic Choir, primed by recent barrier trials at Muswellbrook and Scone, hasn’t raced on a heavy track.
At present Royal Randwick is rated a Heavy 9 with fine weather forecast.