By Tony Megahey
The filly might not present pretty, but with a proviso, Empyrean has the talent to be a live chance for dual TAB Highway Handicap (1100m) winner Norm Gardner in a $60,000 episode at Rosehill Gardens on Saturday.
Gardner had Empyrean primed for a Warwick Farm Highway last Saturday, but she was scratched with a facial fungus infection and as a result, has to be cleared by Racing NSW Stewards to start on Saturday.
However, the veteran Gardner says it hasn’t affected her physically as she is weighted nicely on 55 kilos reduced by a 2.5 kilo claim for Jamie Innes junior.
“She lost a lot of facial hair, it’s not a good look and I fully understand the stewards' responsibilities; but it’s only superficial and growing back," said Gardner, enjoying his finest season in a long career with a near 30% winning strike rate from a small ACT stable.
“I’m hopeful she’ll be cleared to run because it hasn’t affected her work and we were ready to go last week off a couple of nice trials. She’s a really strong progressive filly, and while 1100m is on the short side, she’ll race well fresh.
“She’s well weighted and will close off strong as she’ll get further and has form to 1300m. She’s only missed a week, that and the trials negates any worries going into Saturday.”
Empyrean (Encosta De Lago–Cutie Express) is coming off strong wins over 1200m at Cowra and Goulburn in March and early April. And trials on the ACT synthetic track on June 9 and 23 is typical preparation for Gardner who is renowned for his patience and timing.
Gardner won a Highway in January with flying filly Atom Eve, and another in August with Bootlegging, now retired through injury.
Heading early markets is impressive recent Goulburn winner Surprise Party through the influence of nine-time Highway winner Matthew Dale. And equally Hugh Bowman’s booking for Cosmic Reign coming off recent Muswellbrook and Armidale wins.