By Ray Hickson
Champion jockey Kerrin McEvoy is happy to hang his hopes for a third TAB Everest on Classique Legend knowing there’s still plenty of upside to the talented grey.
Classique Legend is already an Everest veteran, having finished an unlucky sixth behind Yes Yes Yes in the 2019 edition, and that X-Factor he still possesses is part of McEvoy’s thinking in committing to ride for trainer Les Bridge and owner Bon Ho.
“He's obviously an exciting horse and I’m keen to see where he can get to,’’ McEvoy said.
“He impressed us all, Les, myself and Carmel (Size), when he won back in June and I feel that he’s a horse whose best is still ahead of him.
“Hopefully that is the case because he has to step up to another level again and that’s the level that Nature Strip holds at the moment.
“And who knows there might be another young three-year-old that comes along as well.’’
The journey between Everests for Classique Legend hasn’t been your standard one – he was set to leave Australia for Hong Kong but for various reasons that didn’t eventuate.
It meant he missed an autumn preparation and another chance to test his mettle against Nature Strip, who finished fourth in the Everest and returned to assert his dominance in the Group 1 TJ Smith Stakes.
Bridge elected to use the Listed June Stakes (1100m) at Randwick as a winter hitout to get at least a small preparation into Classique Legend and while it wasn’t the most impressive of wins he prevailed under 60kg on a testing track.
“It was a well thought out plan by Les to resurrect a preparation before spring time,’’ McEvoy said.
“It was one of the only options for him at that time of year and it was nice to tick that box and he’s had a bit of a holiday in the stable since then.”
McEvoy said he’s seen evidence that the rising five-year-old, with just nine starts under his belt, has taken the steps strength wise that Bridge always said he was lacking heading into last year’s Everest.
That knowledge is important because he was beaten just 2.5 lengths in 2019 proving, at least to a degree, he’s capable of realising his potential as a topline sprinter.
“He no doubt would have run closer last year given a cleaner passage from the top of the straight home so you’d have to think a better version of him this spring would see him acquit himself well in good races,’’ McEvoy said.
“It’s always interesting to see young horses in that sort of preparation when you’re racing against the top level.
“You can learn a lot about how they handle it and you’re armed with a better set of tools when you do it the next time. You’re always learning and I’m sure that’s what Les will take into this preparation.’’
Nature Strip looms large over the $15m TAB Everest (1200m), run at Royal Randwick on October 17, as the $3.50 TAB favourite while Classique Legend is a $9 chance.
He’s hard to miss at 4.30am or anytime for that matter. Classique Legend coming back from his work, the @tabcomau #TheEverest preparation well and truly underway. Chris Williams ‘You forget how good he is, he just does everything so easily’. @SkyRacingAU @racing_nsw @atc_races pic.twitter.com/9VAjylMvix
— Richard Haynes (@Haynsie75) July 20, 2020
They are the only horses, as at the end of July, to have been confirmed as contenders with TAB snapping up the Chris Waller star while Bon Ho purchased a slot from the Australian Turf Club for Classique Legend.
McEvoy of course won the first two editions of the Everest on Redzel and rode the now retired champ in the race last year over Classique Legend, who he has ridden to all four career wins.
He said Nature Strip commands plenty of respect and is rightfully the horse to beat but is hardly conceding this far out.
“It’s as though the Waller team have worked out a formula with him and he’s put those blots in his copybook out the window,’’ he said.
“He showed that last preparation, he has become more reliable, and I’m sure if he comes back in similar form he is going to take plenty of beating.
“You go into every race hoping your horse turns up and it’s the same with any race any day of the week. That’s what everyone competing on Evererst day is hoping for, your horse turns up and things go your way.”