By Ray Hickson
Seven years ago trainer Joe Pride dared to take up the fight to the immortal Black Caviar, to take her out of her comfort zone, with his bold front runner Rain Affair.
So why wouldn’t Pride try the same thing with his ageless speedster Ball Of Muscle against today’s headline act Nature Strip?
It’s a little apples and oranges - we’re not comparing Nature Strip, a rare talent but far from flawless, with the unbeaten Black Caviar – but the thought process is the same.
And because of Pride’s competitive spirit the Group 3 $160,000 TAB Concorde Stakes (1000m) at Randwick on Saturday promises to be even more fascinating than just being the kick off point for the TAB Everest favourite.
“I’m never there to run second, I’m never content with that,’’ Pride said.
“I used to see a few people line up against Black Caviar over the years and be happy to be in the race with her. I don’t want to just be in a race with any other horse, I want to beat them.
“I realise I’m not always going to be able to do that, we needed a couple of things to go our way and so far they are.”
When discussing Ball Of Muscle, the 10-year-old warrior, Pride shows a lot of the spirit that he took into that clash with Black Caviar in her swansong in the 2013 TJ Smith Stakes.
As it turned out she was far too good but Pride wanted Rain Affair, who would finish fourth, to make the champ stretch her neck and that’s exactly what Ball Of Muscle will be doing in his stoush with Nature Strip.
Pride said he’d been sweating on the barrier draw all week hoping Ball Of Muscle would draw inside the odds-on favourite and got his wish when the one marble came out against his name.
What he says that means for the Concorde is that Nature Strip, who drew the outside of the six horse field, isn’t going to do the dictating.
And it could place Redzel's official 1000m track record of 55.73 (Super Too ran 55.72 in 2017 but it was hand timed) under threat.
“He should set a good genuine tempo, that’s the way he rolls, and everyone gets their chance,’’ Pride said.
“We need (barrier one) because when he doesn’t find the lead he can hang in his races and when he finds the paint he always runs his best race.
“He’s claimed some good scalps first-up, he’s beaten Redzel, Santa Ana Lane, Brave Smash, he beats good horses early in their prep with his fitness and speed.
“At the end of the day this isn’t Nature Strip’s grand final by any stretch and if he gets beaten they won’t be throwing themselves down. A win for him, like us, would be a bonus.’’
The market certainly doesn’t think Ball Of Muscle, $23 with TAB, poses a threat to Nature Strip ($1.40) but this race won’t be run on a betting sheet.
Pride said he’s done everything in his power to have Ball Of Muscle ready for the contest, going as far as giving him a longer build up than usual and two solid runaway trial wins.
“He’s going to be 99 days in work, 14 weeks, which is a couple of weeks more than I sometimes give him,’’ he said.
“Sometimes I’ve been to the races within 10 weeks off shorter breaks. It was specifically set up this way to give him every chance.
“He looks absolutely amazing, I’ve never seen him look better in the coat, it’s a funny thing to say about a 10-year-old but he will parade well on Saturday.”
Ball Of Muscle wins a trial at Warwick Farm on August 21
Ball Of Muscle has contested the Concorde once, he ran third back in 2015, and he’ll likely join stablemate Eduardo in the Group 2 Shorts (1100m) in two weeks.
The Warwick Farm trainer is rolling out his TAB Everest candidates over the next couple of weeks with classy mare Fasika to run in the Sheraco Stakes on Saturday week, following a trial on Thursday, then Eduardo a week later.
“We only have a small team and being in these Group races means a lot to us, we haven’t got the big numbers to have multiple numbers so we will make our presence felt,’’ he said.
Pride opens the Randwick meeting with Musical Genius in the Schweppes Handicap (1100m) and he’s expecting the recent recruit to be competitive back in class on her first-up effort.
The former Queensland six-year-old ran eighth in the Group 3 Toy Show (1100m) two weeks ago and is a $7.50 chance with TAB.
“I thought it was a nice run her first run down here,’’ he said.
“I’m not sure we got the tactics right, we were a bit too aggressive on her and ended up in an awkward spot. She’s massively back in grade, back to a 78, and we get the services of Nash (Rawiller).
“I would liked to have drawn inside but she has good speed, she’ll roll up in the first five or six somewhere and hopefully slot in.”