By Tony Megahey
Veteran Stephen Jones, amidst a riding career then 35 years as a trainer in Sydney, the Gold Coast, Malaysia and finally Scone, reckons nothing in racing could surprise him anymore - until Victory Red came along.
After starting his career near tailed off at Armidale ($61) and Gilgandra ($10), the odds about Victory Red contesting a $60,000 TAB Highway (1800m) on the big stage at Royal Randwick on Saturday were about the equivalent of Radish or Mr Ed taking on Winx.
Then a long spell, some training tweaking and some further research into the three-year-old gelding’s pedigree, brought about a remarkable transformation.
“Just dramatic, we’d just about given up; decided to put him over more ground in a weak non-TAB at Mendooron and that was just about the last resort. But he found another leg and won," Jones, at 61 years, explained.
“Then he won at Barraba in class record time and kept it going with a really good win at a tougher Tamworth TAB meeting on the heavy. He had some staying pedigree, he resumed showing us something, and then when we put him over more distance and started to thrive. Maybe just a slow learner and immature, but the form he’s in we decided to have a crack in town.”
Victory Red’s 53kg will be further reduced by Brock Ryan’s 3kg claim. The Highway series reverts to the popular distance range on Saturday, and resulted in booming noms and a capacity field at headquarters.
Typically the 13-time Highway winning stable of Matthew Dunn provides the favourites in Dia De Reys ($4.60), off a recent Royal Randwick series placing, and a fourth at Doomben. Also Ready For Danger ($4.20 fav) has been impressive, winning by wide margins recently on northern rivers tracks.
“Of course it’s harder grade again up against those strong Highway stables, but you never know when they find winning form and confidence how far they can take it,” Jones added. "And we didn’t expect to be on the limit weight either.
“We’ve claimed as well, despite the draw he can still be on pace. And if it’s rain-affected it certainly won’t hurt us below the limit. And maybe make it a bit tougher on the topweights.”
Jones over the years knows when the form and the timing is right to bring a galloper to town. Mid-season Jones’s performed sprinter Akasaki won at Warwick Farm and was placed at Rosehill. Jones has around 30 in work at Scone, and a regular client is retail magnate Gerry Harvey.
In early Highway betting markets, Victory Red is a $19 chance on TAB fixed odds a far cry from those early days at Armidale and Gilgandra.