By Ray Hickson
Everyone’s looking for racing’s next big thing and trainer James Cummings’ handling of star import Avilius in the past 12 months has him poised to step up this spring.
That’s the view of champion jockey Kerrin McEvoy who partners the six-year-old in the Group 1 $500,000 Winx Stakes (1400m) at Royal Randwick on Saturday.
Avilius already has two Group 1 wins behind him, the Ranvet and the Tancred last autumn, and the race named after the retired champ could be his springboard to greatness.
“I think he’s done unbelievably well out here under James’s care and there’s no Winx around this year so it looks like there are some nice targets for him,’’ McEvoy said.
“He’s always been a horse that’s shown a nice amount of ability and I think his trials this time back have been what we’ve expected from him.’’
There’s already plenty of hype about Tasmanian mare Mystic Journey being the heir apparent so it’s possible to overlook what Avilius achieved in his first season in Australia.
In a season overshadowed by the Winx farewell tour, Avilius won eight of his 11 starts and had genuine excuses in two of his defeats including the roughhouse Melbourne Cup.
McEvoy can’t wait to get on board Avilius, the $3.40 TAB favourite, on Saturday having only ridden the gelding in one of his two trials and is looking forward to putting him under race pressure.
Obviously there are other goals further into the spring but McEvoy said everything points to it taking a good performance to beat him.
“I think he’s a good fresh horse, there’s more to come once he gets into his preparation but he can run a bold race on Saturday,’’ he said.
“You want to see them running to a good level.
“If there is a sharper horse there that beats him then so be it but if he’s hitting the line nicely it bodes well for further on down the track.’’
Cummings said Avilius has had a perfect build up to his return with the two trials though he’s not taking anything for granted saying, despite being a dual Group 1 winner, he's right in the big leagues now.
“By my estimation and without getting too carried away, he will run a nice race,” he said.
“But the effort he put in last season will be hard to replicate. He’ll be matching it with better horses every start, there’s nowhere to hide.”
He’s well aware of the profile Avilius can build in the coming months, especially if he lives up to his place in the market first-up, so is expecting plenty of post-race scrutiny win, lose or draw.
“It’s one thing to expect him to run a nice race and sail home in a Group 3 like he’s done previously, but it’s another thing to saddle up in a Group 1,’’ Cummings said.
Avilius wins a trial at Rosehill on August 6
“It’s another dimension, it’s about how he copes. He’ll be closely dissected and analysed.”
Stablemate Best Of Days developed a barrier issue in the autumn and his campaign was cut short so Cummings has hit the reset button for the spring.
Given he also saddles up the race favourite, Cummings’ comments are limited to looking for a “positive effort’’ from the Group 1 winner.
“His autumn schedule was thrown off track,’’ he said.
“Since resuming work, he has pleased us. I’ve got to be optimistic and expect our patience to be rewarded with a positive effort.’’