By Ray Hickson
Epsom day has been good to trainer Greg Hickman in the past but it’s safe to say he hasn’t taken a horse like Pierata into a feature Randwick mile.
Hickman’s last runner in the Group 1 $1m TAB Epsom Handicap (1600m) was his warhorse Sportsman, who ran sixth in 2003, a year after Royal Purler caused an upset downing odds-on favourite Victory Vein to win the Flight Stakes.
Those horses were bargain buys, both Sportsman and Royal Purler set their owners back $8000 making Pierata look expensive at $160,000.
But the four-year-old, Epsom third favourite at $4.80 with TAB, has always had a higher expectation placed on him and the $2.3m he has in the bank suggests he’s already living up to it.
“Behind the scenes we’ve always thought he was up here, the public thought a bit less but he was growing and he could have been a horse that won nine straight with a bit of luck,’’ Hickman said.
“He’s strengthening up all the time, doing work he would never have done before and he’s eating more than ever before.
“He is a pretty smart horse and he is just starting to realise it.’’
Since his Magic Millions win in January, Hickman’s goal has been to add Group 1 winner to the stallion’s CV.
He ran second to Kementari in the Randwick Guineas (1600m) two months later then returned in August and reversed the placings in the Missile Stakes over 1200m.
The Epsom has always been in Hickman’s mind but the Missile brought Pierata into the Everest picture and it took a setback, forcing the horse to miss the Tramway Stakes, for the mile to be locked in as his target.
Pierata showed he’s on track with a gallant second, after racing wide throughout, in the Bill Ritchie (1400m) two weeks ago and he drops 3.5kg into Saturday’s race.
“This is the first time he has gone into a Group 1 with all the boxes ticked,’’ Hickman said.
“Horses of mine, if they win over 1200m first-up in good races they are generally pretty handy. I normally train for third or fourth up and they keep on improving.
“Seven weeks in between runs and he did it on sheer ability.
Pierata is narrowly beaten by Siege Of Quebec at Randwick on September 15
“Surprisingly enough he pulled up really well out of the last run and has gone about what we would normally do with him. The bin has been clean, his work has been super.’’
Punters Intel data shows Pierata covered an extra 8.5m in the Bill Ritchie and still ran the third fastest last 600m of 34.50
Pierata completed his Epsom build up with a 1200m gallop at Warwick Farm on Tuesday.
With James McDonald riding favourite D’Argento, Corey Brown, who has ridden the horse in all but three of his starts, is reunited with Pierata and Hickman was rapt with drawing barrier four.
“History says you can win from outside but for mine it is who is going to take us into the race,’’ he said.
“It’s about how we get into the right position as easily as possible.’’