By Ray Hickson
Lion Roars Into Championships Contention
Chris O’Brien hadn’t even dismounted from The Lion when he declared the TAB Highway winner should be set for The Country Championships.
The comment – “you’re off to the Championships, boy’’ - probably didn’t sink in with trainer Michelle Fleming who was still coming to terms with the lightly raced four-year-old’s Rosehill win.
The Lion’s Highway win was not only significant for Fleming, who has seven horses in work at Tamworth, as her first city winner but it was the first time she’d ever been to the races in Sydney.
“I can’t believe it, I’m very emotional and it’s very exciting,’’ she said after the race.
Now attention turns to whether The Lion can stretch himself to the 1400m, and if so it would make him an ideal Country Championships contender.
Fleming has a couple of weeks to think about it as the logical path is through the 1300m Preview at Scone on February 23 before the $150,000 Hunter & North West Qualifier (1400m) also at Scone on March 18.
The $500,000 Country Championships Final (1400m) is run at Royal Randwick on April 7.
“He could be (a Championships horse), he settles really well so I could go to 1400m if I wanted to,’’ she said.
“If you can have him comfortable in the run you can bring him home. I’ll let him recover from this trip and see how he pulls up but I’m sure he will be fine.’’
Fleming, who has been licenced for six years, prepared a double at Thursday’s meeting at Tamworth (King Solomon and Ayham) then made the journey to Sydney on Friday with The Lion to make sure he didn’t have to travel in the heat.
Craze Begins Path To Randwick
While on potential Country Championships runners, talented galloper Suncraze will begin his preparation in a barrier trial at Muswellbrook on Thursday.
Trainer Melanie O’Gorman said the four-year-old has been working in good order and if he qualifies for the Country Championships it will be his fourth run in the preparation.
Suncraze, who has three wins and seven seconds from 10 starts, hasn’t raced since he finished a close second behind After All That in the Anniversary Highway at Randwick on Everest Day.
“I think he’s done well, I’m happy with where he’s at and pleased with his gallops,’’ O’Gorman said.
“I always pump him full of feed, I like to see him bulk up a bit in the downtime because he’s a horse that can lighten off after a each run.’’
Suncraze is set to resume in a 1200, TAB Highway at Warwick Farm on February 10, he’ll then head to a midweek race at Rosehill on February 28 before the Scone Qualifier on March 18..
Reign Relief For Portelli
Star filly She Will Reign gave trainer a minor scare when she displayed some inflammation to her front fetlock joint on Friday morning but has declared it’s all systems go for her return in two weeks.
In fact Portelli said the minor issue was probably a blessing in disguise as the only thing she missed was an exhibition gallop at Rosehill on Saturday that in hindsight he feels could have been counter-productive to her preparation.
“Once we flexed her and trotted her up she was 100 per cent sound,’’ he said.
“It was more she either bruised it or twisted it and got a bit of fluid in it.
“Went for a swim on Saturday. She’s that fit so it might be a blessing in disguise, she can have an easy couple of days and freshen up.
“We might have dodged a bullet from not coming to gallop and having the float trip in the heat.’’
SWR has some minor inflammation to her off front fetlock joint this morning. She is not lame and we are confident she will resume normal work on Monday. I will not gallop her between races at Rosehill tomorrow. pic.twitter.com/LTNVvVgcf5
— Gary Portelli (@GaryPortelli) January 25, 2018
Portelli said the Golden Slipper winner will do all her remaining preparation for her resumption in trackwork gallops with a trot and canter pencilled in for Monday.
She Will Reign is set to resume in the $250,000 Inglis Sprint (1100m) at Warwick Farm on February 10 where she’ll clash with boom Victorian Nature Strip.
Lees Revives An Icon, George Fails To Flatter
If you can be happy in defeat then Kris Lees was over the moon with the return of Prized Icon in running second in the Listed Carrington Stakes (1400m) at Rosehill on Saturday.
The same couldn’t be said for boom import George Patton who clearly wasn’t comfortable in his first run for 18 months as he finished seventh.
Prized Icon, the 2016 Victoria Derby winner, signalled to Lees that, so long as he can find dry tracks, he can be competitive in anything he sets the four-year-old.
“It was a good return and pleasing to see,’’ Lees said.
“He’s shown us enough in his work and trials to suggest he will run well but you want to see stallions produce that after a long break.’’
Prized Icon runs a pleasing second in the Carrington Stakes at Rosehill
Lees said he will let the dust settle before deciding on where to head with Prized Icon. The Australian Cup is on the radar but he feels that race might come up a bit quickly.
As for George Patton, jockey Brenton Avdulla said in the early stages of the Carrington he was happy with the gelding but he then spent about 500m getting his head up and over racing.
The grey was the best backed runner all day at Rosehill but backers were always travelling about as comfortably as the horse did in the middle stages.
“When I was put into a position where there were runners around him and the tempo slackened he got his head to the side and I wasn’t working with a lot of room,’’ Avdulla said.
“I was confident he’d got into a rhythm about the 700m mark and he would finish the race off. He was a bit thick in the wind on pulling up but he was first-up for a long time.’’
Winx's Easy Week
After holding court at the Rosehill barrier trials last Monday, champion mare Winx has enjoyed an easy week but will begin ramping up preparations for her second trial in the week ahead.
Chris Waller's racing manager Charlie Duckworth said Winx came through the trial, where she ran sixth behind Trapeze Artist, without any issues at all.
Winx is set to have her second trial this preparation at Rosehill on February 5 before resuming in the Group 2 Apollo Stakes (1400m) 12 days later.
The interest in Winx at her first appearance of 2018 was high and it's likely to grow further if she can extend her 22 win streak this autumn.
Duckworth said the stable receives plenty of emails about Winx from the public and while she's been Australia's number one racing drawcard for the past couple of years the interest in her still amazes everyone.
"Mostly people want to give her a carrot or a pat, there's a lot of well wishers hoping she remains sound and keeps winning,'' Duckworth said.
"As you get deeper into the preparation the more the interest grows and the more inquiries you get. It's pretty incredible.''