By Ray Hickson
All eyes are on the Sydney Cup with imported stayer Spirit Ridge but jockey Robbie Dolan is confident he can measure up to weight-for-age in Saturday’s Group 1 $1.5m KIA Tancred Stakes (2400m) at Rosehill Gardens.
Dolan has been excited about the six-year-old for about 12 months and says as his major target looms he’s only getting better.
The former two-time champion apprentice has ridden Spirit Ridge four times for three wins and his last start second to Toffee Tongue in the Group 3 Sky High Stakes on March 13.
That race saw Spirit Ridge make the transition from taking the summer double of the Group 3 Summer Cup and Listed January Cup to autumn carnival level and that gives Dolan confidence he can take another step despite having the weights against him at his Group 1 debut.
“I was very happy with his first-up run and he’s taken a lot of improvement,’’ he said.
“I’d say the extra week has helped him again. He’s come on in his work, I galloped him the other morning and he’s just getting better with every piece of work he’s doing.
“He has a good turn of foot so you’d think if he had that turn of foot when we get to a two mile race you’d think he’d be right in the finish especially with his weight.”
The gelding, $8.50 with TAB on Wednesday, is on the $15 line in betting on the $2m Schweppes Sydney Cup (3200m) on April 17 where he has 51.5kg.
With the switch to WFA he’ll meet Toffee Tongue 3kg worse at the weights on Saturday for the last stride defeat in the Sky High - one that hurt Dolan a little as both he and Toffee Tongue's rider Tom Marquand thought he had held on.
But Dolan suspects the Tancred will be run more to his horse’s liking than when forced to lead in that race three weeks ago.
“I think Angel Of Truth is the one that will lead them up. (Spirit Ridge) is better with something to aim at I reckon but he’s a versatile sort of horse,’’ he said.
“My lad first-up probably exceeded expectations on how well he ran considering he was holding some condition. He’s a lot fitter now, a couple of weeks between runs and hopefully we can turn the tables.”
Dolan has recorded two third placings in Group 1 races this season as he chases his first at the top level – he partnered Elizabeel into the bronze medal position in the Surround Stakes and Dame Giselle filled the same spot in the Coolmore Classic.
Trainer Mark Newnham said he’s been rapt with Spirit Ridge all preparation and suggested the hot conditions first-up off a two month break and being forced to lead only added merit.
He said Dolan rode Spirit Ridge perfectly in the Sky High under those circumstances and sees how the Tancred might unfold in a similar way expecting last week’s Ranvet placegetter Angel Of Truth to assume the front-running role again.
Spirit Ridge runs second at Rosehill on March 13
“It looks to set up fairly well for us,’’ Newnham said.
“He would able to follow across and I think the bonus of having Angel Of Truth there is he usually goes a genuine enough gallop and the field will sort itself out. If he can get the right run sitting off him I would think he would run very well.
"I’ve been completely happy with him all prep, he’s in the right sort of form and I thought his run the other day was very good.
“There’s every reason to think (Robbie) will produce a good ride and the horse a good run on Saturday.”