By Ray Hickson
Three talented sprinters - all stallion prospects - each with a point to prove.
Can Trapeze Artist return to his form from last year’s The Championships? Is Pierata a bona fide Group 1 performer? What of Kementari – is he really ‘Special K’?
The scene is set for the Group 1 $500,000 Canterbury League Club Stakes (1300m) at Royal Randwick, the first of what will likely be several fascinating clashes between the valuable four-year-olds whose careers have already intertwined.
It’s not lost on Pierata’s trainer Greg Hickman, either, what a Group 1 win means for the horse’s future.
“Everyone that rides him says he’s a Group 1 horse,’’ Hickman said.
“This is his time. I’ve got him as well as I can get him, he’s bright and bushy tailed at the moment.’’
Hickman believes a Group 1 win before the end of the season - he'll next run in the TJ Smith then All Aged Stakes - will secure Pierata’s future as a stallion and will probably mean he’s retired.
Pierata winning the Sydney Stakes at Randwick on October 13
A shot at the $14 million The Everest in October would be out, he did run faster time than Redzel in winning the Sydney Stakes on Everest Day, unless the new owners want to press for a slot – or own a slot.
“The thing that would stop us going to the Everest is what happens when he has to stop racing,’’ Hickman said.
“If he comes out and wins one Group 1 it’d be a hard decision, if he won two it’d be obvious and if he won three he’d be gone.''
Pierata comes into the Canterbury Stakes off one barrier trial – Hickman says he only needs one now he’s a late season four-year-old – and he holds a decision over Kementari first-up in the Missile Stakes back in August.
Kementari’s future off the racetrack is likely already secured through Godolphin given he’s a Group 1 winner of last year’s Randwick Guineas where he downed Pierata and Trapeze Artist.
The problem is he hasn’t won since that race one year ago but has placed four times at Group 1 level including once behind Winx and Happy Clapper.
But reputation, with punters especially, is at stake for the horse they call Special K – is he a serious Group 1 performer or just a good horse?
It's been a month between runs, broken up by a barrier trial, for Kementari and trainer James Cummings believes the son of Lonhro is up for the challenge.
Kementari runs second in his barrier trial at Canterbury on February 25
“He’ll enjoy a good contest here and he has every opportunity to demonstrate his great turn of foot against this high standard of opposition,” Cummings said.
“He’s refreshed and bulked up nicely since his solid first-up effort at Caulfield.
“This is a beautiful second-up target and he should find this distance right in his comfort zone.”
As a three-time Group 1 winner, Australia's champion three-year-old colt for 2017-18 and last year’s Everest runner-up Trapeze Artist doesn’t need to do a lot more on the track – he could easily have been retired after last year’s All Aged Stakes.
But his owner Bert Vieira took the sporting option of trying to win The Everest and give him another season. He couldn’t pick up Redzel but lost no admirers.
Trainer Gerald Ryan is adamant the horse is on target for his main aim – the Group 1 $2.5m Darley TJ Smith Stakes – but has taken steps to overcome Trapeze Artist’s habit of the second-up syndrome getting him.
“People here at home, those who ride him work like James Innes and Blake Shinn recently, we haven’t been worried and he’s been going great all preparation,’’ Ryan said.
“He’s been a great target horse. He’s no good on soft 6/soft 7 tracks and he always takes a run.’’
Trapeze Artist wins his barrier trial at Rosehill on March 1
So Ryan’s approach with Trapeze Artist since his ‘jury’s out’ first-up fourth in the Expressway Stakes (1200m) five weeks ago has been to use two solid barrier trial hitouts in the blinkers as a replacement of sorts for a second-up run.
“We’d like to think they are (equalling a run) but we won’t know until he races,’’ he said.
“His best form has always been his third go so we have to try and do something and hope it works which we won’t know until Saturday.’’
TAB markets saw Trapeze Artist open $2.80 favourite ahead of the other duo at $4.40. The sentiment seems one of the three will win and what an important win it will be.