By Ray Hickson
Robbie Dolan was so taken with emerging three-year-old Sky Lab’s last start win he’s heading to Randwick on Saturday quietly confident he can bowl over another stayer on the up and race into Australian Derby contention.
Sky Lab, trained by Paul Perry, is out to keep his unbeaten record this prep intact in the Heineken Handicap (2000m) where he’ll face off with the exciting import Great House.
It’s virtually a two horse race according to the TAB market, with Great House $2.40 and Sky Lab $4.80 and with just 1kg between them it’s a clash that Dolan is looking forward to.
“I know they have a big opinion of Chris Waller’s horse but I don’t see why he can’t take another step again,’’ Dolan said.
“I’ll get more of a guide on where he’s going. I think Great House will probably end up in a Sydney Cup and if we can beat him or get near him we will take confidence out of the race.”
Sky Lab has taken some big steps in the past six months or so having only posted his maiden win back in August, he resumed with a win over 1350m at Wyong before graduating to town in a 1600m three and four-year-old race three weeks ago.
What captured Dolan’s imagination most was the gelding’s ability to sprint off a moderate tempo – he clocked the fastest last 600m as he picked up Zing, running 34.42 (Punter's Intelligence) which was more than two lengths faster than any rival.
“He’s still a pretty unknown quantity but every time they’ve stepped him up he’s delivered,’’ Dolan said.
“I’d watched his replays and I was impressed before asking anyone about him. Tom Sherry told me a long time ago when he won on him he’s a nice horse.
“The Perry camp told me he didn’t have a great turn of foot and would need to wind into his races.
“They didn’t go hard and sprinted off the bend so he definitely proved a couple of people wrong and showed a good turn of foot up the running so he might be better than they think.”
There’s every chance another win will see Sky Lab tested at Group 1 level against his own age in the Rosehill Guineas (2000m) in three weeks on the way to the $2m Australian Derby and the gelding gives Dolan every indication that he has another level.
Dolan said he won’t bustle the horse to be out of his comfort zone from a slightly tricky barrier.
“He was strong through the line and trying to pull him up he was strong again so he’s only going to get better as he gets over more ground,’’ he said.
“He’s best ridden where he’s comfortable, as he has in all his runs, where he can find his feet and come into the race when I want.
“It’s a good thing drawn out a bit because I can get on the back of one and we might not want to be on the fence by that stage of the day.”
Sky Lab wins at Randwick on February 6
Meanwhile, Dolan isn’t ruling out a Group 1 breakthrough on Elizabeel in the $500,000 Cellarbrations Surround Stakes (1400m) on Saturday.
The John Sargent-trained filly ($21 with TAB) pleased Dolan with her first-up fourth behind Every Rose in the Light Fingers Stakes (1200m) two weeks ago and just wants to find some cover having punched the breeze last time out.
“I was happy with her return, she’s definitely got bigger and stronger,’’ he said.
“I galloped her a couple of times since that run and she’s definitely come forward. I was forced wide without cover all the way the other day and she still fought on and ran fourth.
“If I can get cover it helps her to travel a little bit smoother and gives her a chance to follow something down to the bend. She is going really well and she’s a top three chance.”