By Ray Hickson
When respected Kiwi trainer Murray Baker sends a Derby bound three-year-old to the Group 2 $200,000 Signace Tulloch Stakes (2000m) history tells us it pays to be wary.
So The Frontman commands some attention at Rosehill on Saturday and co-trainer Andrew Forsman says ability wise he’s right up there with the young stayers the stable has sent to Sydney over the past few years.
They’ve won the Tulloch with Quick Thinker (2020) and Jon Snow (2017), both of which went on to win the Australian Derby a week later, while Madison County ran second in 2019 and Weather With You third in 2018. Baker also won the race in 2009 with Harris Tweed.
Between the two Baker/Forsman winners of the Tulloch were Levendi and Angel Of Truth so the past four winners of the $2m Bentley Australian Derby have taken out the race with a reputation of being the low road the Group 1.
“I think he is as good as them, he just hasn’t had the solid grounding like the last few we’ve tried to do it with,’’ Forsman said of The Frontman.
“That would be the only thing that pulls him up, that he hasn’t had the hard exposure of multiple preparations.
“He’s a lightly tried horse off a very strange preparation because of an abandoned race meeting. He ran a very good race in our Derby and we’re happy with how he has settled into Sydney.”
The Frontman has raced only four times and his lone win was on debut at Rotorua just after Christmas. The abandoned meeting Forsman referenced was at Matamata on February 10 and was meant to bridge the gap from the Levin Classic and stepping up in distance towards the New Zealand Derby.
He was forced to go a month between runs and take on older horses over 2100m and finished a commendable second before running a close third in the Derby on March 7.
Forsman admitted he wasn’t overly enthused by The Frontman’s warm up 1200m barrier trial at Randwick on March 26 but he was encouraged by jockey Hugh Bowman’s report.
“I thought it was a lacklustre effort really, I thought he would have done a bit more but Hugh was pretty happy with him,’’ he said.
“He said he gave a good feel and was pretty much right where he needed to be so that gives us confidence when you get feedback like that.
“He probably needed it a touch, he had an easy week having flown over and we hadn’t done much with him. That extra week we’ve been given is going to help him a bit because he has been lightly tried and has had a funny preparation.”
The Frontman is among the favourites with TAB in the Tulloch, $4.80 on Wednesday, and is on the $11 line in the Australian Derby.
On what he saw in last week’s Rosehill Guineas, especially with Mo'unga bypassing the Derby, Forsman said whoever wins the Tulloch can head to Randwick confident they are in the game.
“I guess Milford (second in NZ Derby) didn’t really frank the form of our Derby but it will be interesting to see which ones press forward from the Rosehill Guineas,’’ he said.
“I don’t think there were too many flashing lights our of the Guineas that were too concerning heading into the Derby.
“It’s an easier path, it can give horses a bit of confidence going into a Derby and the back up in to a 2400m race which is often run on a soft or heavy track benefits them.”
The Chosen One was a month between runs going into the Sky High Stakes three weeks ago so Forsman said he’ll be a fitter horse for the Group 1 $1.5m Kia Tancred Stakes (2400m).
The Frontman's trial at Randwick on March 26
The five-year-old was beaten 1.8 lengths by Toffee Tongue but proved in the spring, with his runs in the Caulfield and Melbourne Cups, he’s more than capable of mixing it with high class stayers.
“We were a little disappointed at face value but second-up he’s never been good for whatever reason,’’ Forsman said.
“It was one of his better second-up efforts he has put in and we are confident he is going as well as he ever has.”
Meanwhile, classy three-year-old Aegon has an easy trial at Warwick Farm on Thursday before taking on the Group 1 $3m The Star Doncaster Mile (1600m).
Aegon lost his unbeaten record when he ran sixth in the Randwick Guineas and Forsman is putting the effort, not a bad one but not up to his usual standard, down to the back up.
“We can only think it was the first time it was out of his pattern of having a freshen up and a gap between his races,’’ he said.
“It was the first time he backed up and he raced accordingly. He’s still a bit soft and immature and we have to keep him on the fresh side while he is still growing.”