Trainer Kelvin Hickmott has been amazed by the improvement of War Baby over the winter months and hopes the tough mare can surprise him again when she takes on two of Australia’s most powerful stables in Thursday’s Listed $160,000 McKimms Real Estate Grafton Cup (2350m).
War Baby is one the third line of betting for the Grafton Cup on TAB fixed odds at $9.50 behind the Gai Waterhouse and Adrian Bott-trained Supply And Demand ($3 favourite) and Chris Waller’s Montauk ($4.60).
War Baby has discovered the best form of her career since she won a Benchmark 65 Handicap (1606m) on a heavy 9 at Grafton back on May 19, going on to be very competitive in Group 3 and Listed company over the Queensland winter carnival.
After streeting the field by 6.5 lengths in the $100,000 Provincial Winter Stayers Final (2150m) at Ipswich on June 17, the five-year-old mare then backed up a week later to run a strong third to Rudy and More Energy in the Group Three $200,000 Tatts Cup (2200m) at Doomben.
She backed up again on July 1 to run another bold race in the Listed $176,000 Caloundra Cup (2400m), beaten just over two lengths into third place behind Supply And Demand and My Diamantine.
“She’s just been flying in recent weeks and has probably improved about six lengths in that time,” said the Beaudesert-based Hickmott. “I never thought at the beginning of her campaign she’d be running in Group and Listed races over the carnival and being competitive at that level.
“She’s always had ability but has just improved so much this campaign – I just put it down to natural improvement with maturity.”
Hickmott said War Baby had improved so much this campaign that he is considering taking her south in the spring for some suitable mares’ races. He would have preferred soft ground at Grafton on Thursday to boost War Baby’s chances in the Cup, but was delighted with her strong effort on a firm track in the Tatts Cup two starts back.
“Up until recently her best form had always been on wet tracks but she ran probably her best race ever in the Tatts Cup two runs back on a good track when she sat outside the leader and Rudy had the last crack at her,” he said.
War Baby faces some tough opposition in the Grafton Cup including a repeat clash with Caloundra Cup winner Supply And Demand. Montauk also looks a major threat on his recent placings at Rosehill – behind Supply and Demand on June 17 and Gallic Chieftain on July 1.
But Hickmott also has a healthy fear of outsider Allzin, trained at Wauchope by Graham Hoy, who easily beat War Baby (3rd) over 2200m at the Sunshine Coast on June 4: “Obviously, you always have to fear Gai and Chris Waller in these feature races, but I also respect Allzin who beat us fair and square at the Sunshine Coast and we meet him 4kg worse in Thursday’s race,” said Hickmott.
A win by the Waterhouse/Bott-trained Supply And Demand would give Australia’s first lady of racing a third Grafton Cup in the past four years after success with Queenstown (2014) and Bonfire (2015).