By Tony Megahey
Wayward talent Acquittal will have confident backing as he strives to become only the second maiden galloper to break through in the TAB Highway series so far in an 1100m, $60,000 flyer at Royal Randwick on Saturday.
Acquittal has bombed the start badly at his only two starts at Goulburn, but such is the opinion of 10-time series winner Danny Williams, that he has elected to by-pass three grades to contest a strong Class 3 episode at headquarters. Ironically, the only maiden to break through in the Highway series is Brett Cavanough’s Another Sin, who was nominated for Saturday’s race but didn’t accept.
Acquittal, weighted on the 53kg limit for Jay Ford, has a 'boom' that makes him probably the most scrutinised maiden in country racing. The imposing Nicconi three-year-old gelding started prohibitive odds ($1.40), finishing second on debut at his home track in June.
And resuming there two weeks ago, he again destroyed his chances by missing the jump. Significantly, he was among the Highway nominations then, but Williams elected to take on the far easier assignment of a modest maiden again at home.
But Acquittal was again on his worst behaviour. In a small field he was again last away as a $2.20 favourite and gave smart debut sprinter Bee Neeta an impossible start over 900m.
Sky Racing’s John Scorse has been broadcasting trackside on both occasions: “He’s a massive talent, goes like a jet, if he behaves I think he’ll win,” Scorse said. “His final sections have been phenomenal after making mistakes. When he learns what it’s all about, he’ll win far better races, don’t worry about that."
Over to Danny Williams: “Yes, he does have unlimited ability, but he's so frustrating. He can go with anything I’ve got down here, performed gallopers, but he gets hot and stressed and does everything wrong to beat himself,” Williams explained.
“So frustrating for us, going onto the track and then at the barriers; so hot and in a mood. We thought he’d be unbeaten by now on what he’d shown. We’ve tried just about everything to get him to be more tractable.
"On the positive side though, he’s only had two starts so we thought the solution might be to get him away from where things were going wrong and onto new surroundings. And the big track at Randwick. It’s rare to have a horse that can sustain a run and reel off final sections like him.
“But still, 1100m on Saturday is short of his best. He’ll be better suited out to 1400m.
“But as far as going up in grade, we just wanted to get him away, change things, get some travel experience and onto a bigger track. With his ability, going up in grade didn’t concern us.”
Acquittal will be among the favourites, along with previous Highway winners, Matthew Dunn’s Conniving and Kurt Goldman’s impressive Equal Balance.