By Ray Hickson
There’ll be no hesitation from trainer David Payne to take on the boys with his star filly Montefilia this autumn and it could come as soon as second-up if she returns in good order at Randwick on Saturday.
Payne rates Montefilia as a superior stayer to his 2017 VRC Derby winner and 2018 ATC Derby runner-up Ace High and a better horse at the same stage of their careers.
And while the Group 1 $500,000 Cellarbrations Surround Stakes (1400m) is well short of her pet trip Payne said with two easy trials under her belt her class factor, especially if we get a wet track, gives her an upset chance.
“I think she’s a stronger filly now, she looks well and has put on weight. I’m very pleased with where she is at this stage,’’ he said.
“The 1400m shouldn’t be her go but I expect her to run a very good race.
“She’s in with a chance don’t worry about that because she is a very good filly but once we step her up she’s going to get better and better.”
Montefilia, $11 with TAB in the Surround, has won four of her eight starts including Group 1s in the Flight Stakes (1600m) and Spring Champion Stakes (2000m) before her gallant third in the VRC Oaks last spring.
It took Ace High seven starts before breaking his maiden status but ended his three-year-old spring with four wins from 12 starts including the Spring Champion and VRC Derby.
Though he was beaten by the bob of the head in the ATC Derby he only won one more race, the Hill Stakes in 2018, so that’s the challenge for Montefilia to prove she is a cut above him.
“I think she’s better than him. She’s a better horse because she would stay better than him,’’ Payne said.
“I know he won the Derby but he was more a 2000m horse. And if you look at her record so far she’s done better than him at this stage of her career.”
Hugh Bowman is back on board first-up and Payne said Montefilia’s performance on Saturday will go a long way to telling him what direction to take in the short term.
The Group 1 Rosehill Guineas (2000m), where she’s $34 with TAB, is definitely on the radar and he’s not ruling out the $2m Australian Derby (2400m).
“If she puts her hand up, if she’s going well I’ll definitely be taking the boys on,’’ he said.
“Not a problem. She’s in the Derby as insurance so we’ll see.
“We’ll let her tell us, my gut feeling is 2000m after this run but we will see what she tells us. If she is sharp enough for 1400m we might look at the Coolmore.”
La Mexicana comes to Sydney with an imposing record of five wins from seven starts and co-trainer Sam Freedman says the Surround is her ‘grand final’ for the preparation so is expecting her to fire.
The filly is a last start winner of the Group 3 Kevin Hayes Stakes (1200m) three weeks ago and at her only attempt at 1400m was beaten half a length at Sandown in the spring.
“She’s very honest, she handles heavy tracks,’’ Freedman said.
“She’s probably better on heavy tracks than on top of the ground. I think she gets the trip no worries and she generally makes her own luck out on the speed.
“She’s got a great will to win and is rock hard fit, this is her grand final.”
Montefilia's second trial at Randwick on February 11
The Freedman stable, prior to Sam’s partnership with his father Anthony, won the Surround in 2018 with classy filly Shoals.
Tom Marquand has been booked to ride La Mexicana, $7 with TAB, and Freedman said it’s of little concern having her first attempt in the reverse direction.
With Every Rose expected to lead the Surround, Freedman expects La Mexicana to get a nice cart across into a forward position.
“Our track at Pinecliff is the Sydney direction anyway so she’s galloped on that leg. Most of our horses tend to adapt pretty quickly to that leg,’’ he said.
“We’d probably follow across and end up just behind the speed, somewhere in the first four or five.
“She’s the sort of filly you just have to roll with and put her into the race and she’ll give a hard kick after that.”