By Julieanne Horsman
Melberra Star ran in the inaugural TAB Highway Handicap in 2015 and two years on she’s back for another shot.
She was balloted out of Saturday’s $200k TAB Anniversary Highway but scraped into the $100,000 Consolation Highway which was introduced by Racing NSW to cater to overwhelming demand. The six-year-old mare is one win from one start this campaign and co-trainer Paul Jones says at $34 she’s over the odds.
“This preparation is the best she has ever been, something has just clicked in her head,” Jones said.
“I suspect she may have had some undiagnosed soft palette issues she’s grown out of because she used to make a noise in trackwork and now she doesn’t make a sound.
“She’s also become a better traveller. When we sent her up to the first highway she didn’t handle the trip well but now she has matured.
“From her gate on Saturday I imagine she will sit in the 3rd or 4th pair and hopefully we’ll see her sprinting home at the end.”
At her most recent start at Kembla Grange, Melberra Star was a tad slow out the gates and last at the 400m, but sprinted hard to pip Ruthless Agent and Godolphin’s Sacher Torte at the post.
“It was a huge effort first up from a 23 week break,” Jones said.
“Saturday’s race will be a tough one but I think we’re finally seeing the potential we initially saw in her when she won on debut.”
Stablemates Rock On Zariz and Mercurial Lad will also line up in the Consolation Highway, while Darts Away made it into the Anniversary. All three have won TAB Highways before and are in good order.
Darts Away has been targeted at this race since it was announced and heads into it with one second-placed run at Moruya under his belt.
“I was happy with that run, especially the finish, but his best runs are second up,” Jones said.
“He’s as fit as he can be and if the track remains a Good 4 it will suit him.
“Adam (Hyeronimus) is on again and he was aboard for Darts Away’s TAB Highway win. “He’s owned by Inglis staff so I’m expecting them to be pretty excited with Fell Swoop running for them in The Everest.”
Mercurial Lad just missed out on the Anniversary and is the top weight in the Consolation. He ran second to fellow TAB Highway winner Super Star Bob at his last start and will meet him 1.5kg better off this time.
“He was a bit slow of the mark so we’ll be aiming to get him away a bit quicker,” Jones said.
“I think he will be very close to the speed and is cherry ripe for the race.”
Rock On Zariz was unlucky in her last outing at Canterbury earlier this month, running into a dead end and finishing 7th.
“Winona got off and said she should have gone close to winning,” Jones said. “She wanted to ride her again but when it looked like she wouldn’t make the field for the Anniversary she accepted rides at Kembla instead.
“She’s screaming out for 1400m.”
The Joseph Jones Racing stable has been one of the most successful in the TAB Highway series behind Matthew Dunn and Matthew Dale.
It’s been a thrilling experience for the owners and more than 40 are coming along on Saturday to cheer their horses home.
“The owners have loved it,” Jones said. “We had one guy who had had six seconds at Randwick but never a winner until Mercurial Lad won a TAB Highway.
“He went off because he’d owned horses for years and the win meant so much to him.
“Getting to Randwick on a Saturday is the goal of most owners and winning is the pinnacle.
“It’s exciting to be heading to the races on any day but it’s better when you arrive thinking you have a chance at winning and I think I have four competitive horses ready for Saturday.”
Unfortunately, co-trainer Barbara Joseph will miss out on the day after being knocked over by one of her younger horses, Ten Tigers.
“She’s at home bumped and bruised but she is OK,” Jones said. “She will be watching on TV and I will no doubt be on the phone before the races.”