By Ray Hickson
Trainer Jamie Richards doesn’t buy into the ‘match race’ talk as star fillies Probabeel and Funstar clash for the fourth time at Rosehill on Saturday but he is quietly confident the ledger can be squared.
After two defeats in the spring, Probabeel took the score to 2-1 in Funstar’s favour when she ran that filly down to win the Group 1 Surround Stakes (1400m) at Randwick two weeks ago.
Richards has the utmost respect for the opposition but on a drying track is looking forward to unleashing Probabeel on the Group 2 $200,000 Chandon Phar Lap Stakes (1500m).
“They are two form horses but you never get too caught up with that,’’ Richards said.
“There are other horses in the race that have good form as well so we treat them all with respect. We think she has gone the right way, that she has improved a bit further.
“Funstar will be much improved for that first-up run you would have thought and I think she is going to be awfully hard to beat. I’m hoping for an improving track because I think Funstar is superior on wetter footing.’’
Over the past few years the race has been a springboard used by Chris Waller for some of his classy fillies, winning the race with Winx (2015) and the past three editions with Foxplay, Unforgotten and Verry Elleegant.
TAB is viewing the Phar Lap as a two horse race with Funstar at $2 and Probabeel at $2.60 on Wednesday.
Punter’s Intelligence sectional data showed there wasn’t a lot between the two three-year-olds in the Surround with Funstar running the fastest last 600m of 33.34 to Probabeel’s 33.38 but the last 400m was the decisive section.
Probabeel hit a flat spot and looked to be going nowhere coming to the turn as Funstar made her move but the Kiwi filly sprung into action running 22.13 for her last 400m, over a length faster than Funstar, to snatch the Group 1.
“What was impressive, not being biased, is we did it the hard way,’’ Richards said.
“We were in a spot of bother at the top of the straight when (Funstar) came around us.
“But to Probabeel’s credit she was good enough to come across heels and get past her again and she won in good fashion.’’
Richards said Probabeel supporters should steel themselves for something similar to happen in the Phar Lap.
“It’s something that she goes through, that’s her, and I’m sure she will do the same again at Rosehill,’’ he said.
“When she gets balanced up and can get to the outside she can really quicken well.’’
Probabeel wins at Randwick on February 29
There was a temptation for Richards to run Probabeel in the Group 1 Coolmore Classic (1500m) against the older horses but he felt she wasn’t well placed with 56.5kg.
As for the next step, the weather will likely determine that but as it stands Probabeel’s immediate Group 1 goal is the Vinery Stud Stakes (2000m) on March 28 and another bout with Funstar.
Meanwhile, Richards said Te Akau Shark is humming along nicely following that sensational Chipping Norton Stakes win and will step up his work this week to take on the headline role in the Group 1 $1m The Agency George Ryder Stakes (1500m) on Saturday week.
“We’ve been fairly quiet with him, haven’t asked to do a lot yet,’’ Richards said.
“We’ll do a bit of three-quarter work on Thursday and step him up from there.’’