By Ray Hickson
As far as trainer Nathan Doyle is concerned, promising mare Strawb didn’t race on that heavy track in town back in July and is expecting she’ll take the first step towards bigger and better things at Newcastle on Saturday.
Doyle has made no secret of how high his opinion is of the lightly raced five-year-old and he said a significant gear change may add a little bit of cream on top of Strawb’s ability.
For the first time since April, Strawb will race with shoes on all feet having campaigned unshod behind last preparation.
“She trialled in her last two trials with full shoes on and that’s a big step into this prep being able to get them on,’’ Doyle said.
“We couldn’t get them on, she didn’t like them, but she’s allowed us to get them on this time.
“It might mean she is a lot more comfortable with us. She was probably first to leave the gates in her trials and it might be a string to her bow to be able to position up a bit handier and not do as much work to get over the top of them.
“She’s shown us plenty, more than she is that average benchmark horse, and hopefully the stars can align and we get the job done and we can move forward with her.”
Strawb won three of her first four starts for Doyle, and was unlucky in that miss, before failing to beat a horse home at Kensington on July 18 at her city debut.
The Newcastle trainer said he’s been patient with the mare in the past month with some rain affected tracks in town and was happy to wait until Saturday’s stand alone city meeting on his home track.
“I’ve never dropped off her, I now she is pretty good but she doesn’t go at all on wet tracks and that’s why we have held her back,’’ he said.
“I’ve said from the outset, just put a line through that run. She’s built like an entire not a mare and she doesn’t like shifty tracks underfoot.”
Seconds to Farnan and Two Big Fari in her two barrier trials have shown the public that Strawb is in good order for her return and she proved popular with punters firming from $8.50 into $3.70 favourite with TAB on Wednesday.
Doyle said the build up has been perfect and he has every reason to be confident.
“We had a few hiccups last preparation but this time in everything has been faultless,’’ he said.
“Even into her first-up win last prep she was three and a half weeks from a trial to the run and had a stone bruise but this time it has been faultless.
“Her work Tuesday morning suggests she should be able to progress through Saturday and pick up something better down the track.”
Stablemate Café Royal didn’t show her best in two city starts on wet tracks in winter, though did manage to run third behind Steel Diamond at Rosehill in June.
The four-year-old is yet to finish worse than second on a good track, and arguably should have won the other, and Doyle said she has a sense of timing about her ahead of the Guardian Safety Solutions Handicap (1200m).
“She’s had a good preparation, taken improvement from the last trial to now,’’ he said.
“She wasn’t quite there in the coat but the last trial really bought her on and she is ready. She’ll roll forward and hopefully overcome the draw.
Strawb runs second in a trial at Gosford on November 4
“The wheels were spinning there last time so we tipped her out and it’s panned out well that when she’s ready to go back the tracks are dry.”
Golden Eagle winning jockey Koby Jennings rides both Strawb and Café Royal, who was $9 with TAB on Wednesday.
Muswellbrook Cup winner Petrology is Doyle’s third runner at Newcastle in the Hunter Valley Premium Meats Handicap (1300m) and said he can only be hopeful about the nine-year-old who is a $34 shot.
“He’s trialled up well but you never know what you’re going to get with Petrology,’’ he said.
“It depends how he gets out of bed, whether he wants to be a racehorse or follow them around.
“When he is right he’s pretty good. He has no weight, we’ll ride him quiet, and we hope he reproduces his Muswellbrook Cup run some time this preparation.”