By Brad Gray
All eyes will be on Victorem in the TAB Highway Handicap (1000m) at Royal Randwick on Saturday.
Ben Looker has ridden the Jenny Graham-trained gelding in all three of his race starts and his last three trials, including his latest where he ran an eye-catching second to Group One winner Music Magnate.
“I have always had a very big opinion of him and it wasn’t a shock for me to see him trial like that. I was more relieved as I was always of the belief that he was a really nice horse. In his win at Grafton he beat Runaway,” the Port Macquarie-based jockey said.
“I’ve had a lot to do with him and he is a lovely animal with a very big future.
“The ability has always been there. I think the biggest thing was being able to ride him that little bit more conservatively in the trial. I always thought he’d be better ridden that way.”
Victorem's recent Rosehill trial - December 8
If there are any reservations from an otherwise confident Looker, it’s the 1000m journey.
“Ideally it would have been over 1100m or 1200m but I’m hoping his class will shine through. There seems to be a fair bit of speed in the race so ideally if we can land midfield one off the fence it would be perfect but we’ll probably just ride him how he lands,” he said.
The three-year-olds only defeat to date came on debut after he bucked soon after the start before picking himself up to run an extraordinary fourth.
“He really should be undefeated. In his first race he went 50m and started buck jumping. He was probably 30-40 lengths of them that day and got beaten three (lengths).”
“It was funny that he crow hopped because he never gave any indication of doing it before. Maybe the girth pinched him. He hasn’t done anything since then anyways.”
Saturday’s Highway Handicap looks a perfect launch pad for Victorem, with connections having already pencilled in the first heat of the Country Championship series on February 18 as a target race.
“All going well he’ll head to the (Mid North Coast qualifier). It’s at Port Macquarie this year which is his home track. He has never raced there but works there all the time. He quickens off the corners really well. A lot of horses either suit Port Macquarie or they can’t handle it,” Looker revealed.
Victorem’s stablemate Awesome Pluck also makes the 800km round trip and despite Tye Angland riding Awesome Pluck on Saturday due to a long-standing engagement, Looker was still able to offer punters plenty of insight, believing that they are hard to split on talent.
Looker piloted Awesome Pluck on debut at Taree, which he won by 5.5L still in first gear, and also in his latest trial, at the same Rosehill Gardens set as Victorem.
“He’s also a very nice horse. He has definitely improved physically and he has mentally but he is probably still six months away. He has got plenty of ability but is like a big kid at the moment doing it all on raw ability,” said Looker.
“There isn’t much between them when they work. When Awesome Pluck works with Victorem it’s good because he has a decent horse to chase which makes Awesome Pluck concentrate.”
“(Victorem) has always shown a lot and from early days he has always been a natural whereas Awesome Pluck is still green and learning what he is doing.
“A lot of bush trainers go a very long time to get horses like Awesome Pluck and Victorem so luckily enough for Jenny they are both in the stable at the same time. I don’t see why they wouldn’t measure up to Saturday class races in town. Not just Highway races.”
Looker, who is only eight wins behind Greg Ryan in the Country Jockey Premiership, did three month stints with Gai Waterhouse and Tim Martin as an apprentice, riding “a couple of winners” but it’s been a few years since he has ridden in town.
“I haven’t ridden at Randwick since the new grandstand was built so that’ll be something different,” said the now 27-year-old.
Victorem has been heavily backed with TAB Fixed Odds, already firming from a $4 opening quote into $2.20.
“Victorem is one of the best backed runners across the country heading into the weekend,” TAB’s Andrew Georgiou said.
“From the moment we opened the markets, our customers were jumping all over the price and that’s been reflected in the betting.”