By Ray Hickson
When it comes to training stayers David Payne has never worried too much about the Australian convention that says horses need certain amounts of runs or distance progression to reach a major target.
So that’s why Payne says his classy filly Montefilia can beat the boys in the Group 1 $600,000 Sky Racing Rosehill Guineas (2000m) at Rosehill despite not having raced for a month.
And that race was the Group 1 Surround Stakes over 1400m so not only is she four weeks between runs she’s jumping 600m. And a filly hasn't won the Guineas for over 30 years.
Surely that’s too big an ask!
“In South Africa that’s how we train,’’ Payne said.
“Ace High won the Spring Champion then won a Derby four weeks later and he didn’t have a run in between. And it’s a hard Derby at Flemington so as long as you put the work into them that’s all you need.
“She’s had a good grounding, it would have been a waste of time to run her in a 1600m race. It’d be similar to the Surround and she’d be last and running on.
“If you look at how much start she gave, she only got warm the last 50m. I knew in my heart it was too short but I had to start somewhere.”
Payne said Montefilia “had a couple of runalongs on the Polytrack” this week with the seven day delay into the Guineas and declared she’s spot on for the race that will be the fork in the road for the carnival.
There’s every chance she could back up next weekend in the Group 1 Vinery Stud Stakes (2000m) or if she wins the Guineas then Payne would have no hesitation in tackling the Group 1 $2m Australian Derby (2400m) on April 10.
Of course the Australian Oaks (2400m) is also an option and after her gallant third in the VRC Oaks in the spring Payne might feel a sense of unfinished business.
The last filly to win the Rosehill Guineas was Riverina Charm back in 1989 but Montefilia already has a decision over the boys from her impressive Spring Champion Stakes win back in October.
“Lion’s Roar franked the form, maybe he’s improved but so have we,’’ Payne said.
“Just looking at it (Grandslam) is going to go like the clappers, the way he won the other day looks like the best way to ride him, and that will spread them out a little.
“We’ll be midfield or somewhere there I suppose. This distance gives her a chance to find her feet.
“I would love to win it and then I could decide what I want to do with her.”
Grandslam’s co-trainer Ciaron Maher is a little cautious about his chances on a wet track but said he comes into the Guineas in peak form after a runaway Alister Clark Stakes (2040m) win on March 13.
Maher expects the colt, a full brother to Jameka who ran third in the 2016 Rosehill Guineas, to take up a forward position and isn’t using his Cox Plate failure on a soft 7 as any guide to his ability on rain affected tracks – his sister certainly had no issue with them.
Montefilia's first-up run in the Surround Stakes at Randwick on February 27
“That win was on top of the ground, he’s probably going to get the opposite to that,’’ Maher said.
“He was very good in the Caulfield Guineas going forward. He set a good tempo and toughed it out very well, even though he was travelling at a decent tempo he overdid it in the Cox Plate.”
The all the way Moonee Valley win was a sharp turnaround in Grandslam’s form but Maher put that down to wide barriers in his first two runs back from a spell not allowing him to be ridden to his strengths.
“He basically had to take his medicine for his first couple or runs,’’ he said.
“He would have had to be ridden forward from wide gates and it would have sent the horse the wrong message, but when he got to 2000m I was confident he could bounce back.”