By Ray Hickson
History will tell you that Avilius probably won’t defend his title in Saturday’s Group 1 $1.5m Kia Tancred Stakes (2400m) at Rosehill and trainer James Cummings said there’ll be no excuses if he can’t get the job done.
Only two horses have claimed successive Tancred Stakes – Octagonal (1996-97) and Tie The Knot (1999-2000) – and what they have in common is a Group 1 win at the start before.
Octagonal won an Australian Cup in 1997 while Tie The Knot claimed the 2000 Ranvet Stakes but Avilius, who was such a dominant Tancred winner 12 months ago, is racing below his best form.
Cummings acknowledges that and, while he has some five lengths to make up on favourite Verry Elleegant from last week’s Ranvet, said the six-year-old is now right at his peak.
“He’s looked well throughout this campaign, maybe too well,” Cummings said.
“But he hasn’t been at his absolute best, making me feel that he’s been half-a-run short.”
“This race has been his main target, he got to the line to finish third last start and this will be his first run over 2400m in 12 months.
“Having recovered well from the Ranvet, it is now a case of back up and bounce back.”
Avilius was forced to do some chasing in the slowly run Ranvet. He ran 22.87 between the 800m and 400m and there was certainly nothing wrong with his last 600m of 33.67 (Punter's Intelligence).
Given the soft time up front the winner Addeybb and runner-up Verry Elleegant were afforded, jockey Hugh Bowman said after that race there was merit in Avilius’ run to finish third.
“Superb effort. It was a real sprint home which worked against us but his performance was very good,” Bowman said.
TAB had Avilius marked as $5 Tancred second favourite on Friday behind Verry Elleegant ($2).
Kembla Grange Classic winner Asiago is a $19 chance to cause an upset in the Group 1 $500,000 Vinery Stud Stakes (2000m) and Cummings said she is a filly on the rise.
Asiago is yet to face the likes of Funstar and Probabeel but she’s now a two-time Group 3 winner with the Kembla victory adding to her Spring Stakes success in November.
“Asiago is a classic style of filly and this contest will quickly reveal her Group One credentials,’’ Cummings said.
“She has a turn of foot at 1600m that we believe can serve her well at 2000m. She also has the strength that comes after a couple of preparations.
“Her best wins have come in the most important races, which suggests she rises to the occasion.”
The eyes of many punters will be on comeback galloper Kementari and normally consistent mare Pohutukawa on Saturday.
Avilius runs third in the Ranvet Stakes last Saturday
Kementari has his first start as a gelding in the Group 3 $160,000 E-Group Security Star Kingdom Stakes (1200m) while Pohutukawa seeks redemption in the Group 2 $200,000 Jim Beam Emancipation Stakes (1500m).
Cummings said Kementari ($5.50) has done nothing but please since his return from a failed stud career and the Star Kingdom is a better fit than last week’s Galaxy.
“He drew wide over 1100m last week and we decided to delay his return for this event,’’ he said.
“A favourable draw and the 1200m is more appealing and more in his hitting zone. It’s up to the horse to fulfil his destiny.”
Pohutukawa was a beaten favourite in the Group 1 Coolmore Classic (1500m) two weeks ago, she is a noted wet tracker but Cummings said the deteriorating ground on Coolmore day was not to her liking.
“That was a shame because she’s been ready to fire,” he said.
“She’s trained since then in a way that suggests she has maintained that level.”