By Ray Hickson
Trainer Bjorn Baker says the highlight of last year’s The Gong meeting at Kembla Grange was the striking of a gong prior to the $1m feature and he’s hoping to get in on the act both on and off the track on Saturday.
While his chances in The Gong are in the hands of Group winning mare Positive Peace, Baker has a number of interesting runners through the meeting and, of them, is forecasting a sharp lift from Soldier Of Love in the Polytrack Handicap (1600m).
Plus, he has the fingers crossed a gelding operation does the trick with Night Of Power in the PFD Food Services Handicap (1400m).
Soldier Of Love resumed with what looks on paper as a plain effort to run sixth in the Goulburn Cup (1400m) two weeks ago but Baker isn’t quite so harsh.
“I thought he ran well. He came back in a lot stronger grade, but they went very fast and he was first-up at 1400m so he was very much entitled to get tired,’’ he said.
“I’m not sure he was in the best part of the track that day.
“I think it was a big forgive run and second-up up to a mile should suit much better. He’s a horse that always puts in 100 per cent so I think he’s a big improver.”
The gelding, $9 with TAB, was a second-up winner at Randwick back in May. Baker said tactics are yet to be decided from barrier 10 but he is a horse that would generally race somewhere near the speed at a mile.
Stablemate Spencer has drawn one gate outside Soldier Of Love and Baker is just hoping he can regain form after a shock failure in the Ladies Day Cup at Hawkesbury.
He was placed in the Rowley Mile back in August and Baker is wary he’s up to start 11 for the campaign stretching back to May.
“He’s been up for a while, in and out, quite possibly he is coming to the end of the prep,’’ he said.
“We will have a good think about how we ride him but on his best form he’d be in there with a live chance. On top of the ground he goes well and Hugh Bowman on is a big positive.”
Night Of Power was a strongly supported favourite, and didn’t have a lot of luck, when he kicked off his winter preparation in June but after four unplaced runs a decision was made to geld the six-year-old.
Baker said Night Of Power, $10 with TAB, has the ability to post his first win since January and can’t fault his trials leading in so struggles to find excuses for him on a dry track.
“Last time in he disappointed and he’s not going to be a stallion so it’s the best thing going forward,’’ he said.
“He struck a lot of wet tracks and that wasn’t in his favour. He looks to have come back well, he’s drawn a little bit awkwardly but if he can get cover and finish off we will be happy.
“He always works well at home and we’ve always thought he is up to Saturday grade.”
The Warwick Farm trainer warned not to undersell Shock Alert in the same race despite beating one horse home behind Frosty Rocks when resuming two weeks ago.
“We’ll probably roll forward, he’s actually going really well and he looks great. He’s not completely out of it,’’ he said.
As for the $1m The Gong, Baker said Positive Peace let him down a little with her battling third in the Group 2 Hot Danish Stakes (1400m).
Positive Peace runs third at Rosehill on November 7
The mare, $26 with TAB, has mixed her form a little this spring and is yet to be proven at a mile but has in-form apprentice Tom Sherry on board and a favourable barrier that Baker said will give her every chance.
“I thought she was a bit plain, I thought she would be right there and I wonder if she was a touch flat from the Nivison,’’ he said.
“She still has to tick the box at a mile but she has been bright and eating well, with gate two and Tom Sherry on we will look to be positive.”
Bjorn Baker on Miss Invincible (race 4): “It’s the first time she has got a race to suit for a very long time and I do think she is going well.”
On Turnstyle (race 6): “It was a really good run last time and she was entitled to get tired. In her first-up run at Kembla she got a long way back and finished off hard so she is adaptable and we can see how the track is playing.”