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Villiers Tempts Smith With In-Form D'Ivina

By Ray Hickson

Trainer Matthew Smith will have to weigh up whether to take an aggressive or conservative approach with talented mare Aqua D’Ivina in deciding if she tackles Saturday’s Group 2 $250,000 Villiers Stakes (1600m) at Royal Randwick.

Trainer Matthew Smith (Pic: Bradley Photos)

The five-year-old bounced back to her best form with a narrow but strong win at Kembla Grange’s The Gong meeting last month, her first victory since October 2018.

Smith has nominated Aqua D’Ivina for both the Villiers and a Benchmark 88 over the Randwick mile and may well dual accept before making a final call.

The mare’s dam Aqua D’Amore won the Villiers back in 2005.

“It’s probably no harm to run her, if she gets a bit of black type it makes her a valuable mare,’’ Smith said.

“It’s probably the right thing to run there and then go to the Summer Cup. I feel like she will be better at 2000m but it’s not going to hurt to have another mile run.’’

The Group 3 Summer Cup (2000m) is run at Randwick on Boxing Day.

Smith said training Aqua D’Ivina is a bit of a balancing act as she is a light mare who can be a finnicky eater but he also wants to see the mare back up her return to form.

“I’d seen a big change in her work in the couple of weeks leading up to that (Kembla) race, I had the feeling she was going to run well,’’ he said.

“But of course it is a relief when they’ve had that prep where she didn’t come up. I hope she can go on with it now, that’d be what I’d like to see.

“I think even in the autumn she will be better so I’m conscious of going down the other side. I’d like to give her a freshen on the way up not go until she’s bottomed out and have to give her a long break.’’

Aqua D’Ivina opened $15 with TAB and is among 17 nominations for Saturday’s Villiers, which offers the winner an exemption into the Doncaster Mile, including Festival Stakes winner Ranier, The Gong runner-up Quackerjack, Group 1 winner El Dorado Dreaming, Country Championships winner Noble Bay, Provincial Championships winner Bobbing while Chris Waller has Le Juge and Sambro entered.

Waller has won the Villiers only once, when Honor In War claimed the post-EI edition run in January 2008 over 1400m on protest from Takeover Target.

Meanwhile, some of Smith’s autumn carnival contenders have returned to the stable including dual Group 1 winner Fierce Impact.

The Warwick Farm trainer said the Group 1 All Aged Stakes (1400m) in April is number one on his priority list for the imported six-year-old entire though races in Melbourne and the Doncaster Mile are on the radar.

“The All Aged is the race I’d like to win with him,’’ Smith said.

“He was only beaten a couple of lengths by Pierata this year and he didn’t have blinkers on and wasn’t going as well.

Aqua D'Ivina wins at Kembla Grange on November 23

“A weight-for-age win at Group 1 level would make a bit of difference to his stud value.’’

Stayers Ilwendo and Attorney are also back in work and it will be interesting to see how the latter, unbeaten in two Australian starts with winter victories at Newcastle and Canterbury, measures up.

Smith said Attorney was given a break after he was found to have a fetlock issue which saw him scratched from a Saturday race at Randwick in mid-July and spelled.

“Being a European horse we felt it was best to give him a really nice break, he’d been in work a while, and to get him ready again,’’ he said.

“He’s got grades to go through and he’ll be ready for the autumn.’’

All the entries, form and replays for Saturday's Villiers Stakes meeting at Randwick

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