By Ray Hickson
He wound up last season as the horse most likely to rise to the top in 2019/20 but after two defeats as favourite Avilius will have a point to prove at Randwick on Saturday.
Jockey Kerrin McEvoy and trainer James Cummings are itching to see him get out to 2000m so aren’t taking an all or nothing view of the Group 1 $500,000 Colgate Optic White Stakes (1600m).
At the same time there’s an air of confidence that the forgiving ground will afford the six-year-old his chance to turn the tables on Samadoubt who has had his measure in both the Winx and Chelmsford Stakes.
“I’m expecting to see a better version of him, a better effort again,’’ McEvoy said.
“I do think his best trip is 2000m and he’s obviously won at 2400m as well so we have to keep that in mind.
“The mile, now that he is third-up, I am hoping he will still be effective at given he is your typical 2000m horse once he gets into his preparation.’’
Cummings sees the race as a challenge for Avilius, favourite again at $3.20 with TAB, but says there’s plenty in his favour.
Avilius runs second in the Chelmsford Stakes at Randwick on September 7
In the Chelmsford over the same course two weeks ago the gelding covered an extra 12m as he was forced to ride wide, and without cover, making his run earlier than what’s ideal.
Punter’s Intelligence sectional data says he clocked the fastest 800m-600m of 11.89 and 600m-400m of 11.07 so it’s no surprise he paddled a little late.
“The accent this campaign has been on speed with a 1400m first-up run in the Winx Stakes and a fighting second in the Chelmsford,’’ Cummings said.
“In his first preparation he started off at 1600m and then went to 1900m. On the same program last year he ran in the Kingston Town at 2000m.
“Race conditions were unfavourable in both events (this prep) and a probable heavy surface this Saturday will be to his liking.’’
Avilius won the Group 1 Ranvet Stakes (2000m) and Tancred Stakes (2400m) in his only two runs on a heavy track back in the autumn.
It’s been 18 years since McEvoy won his only George Main Stakes, on star three-year-old Viscount for John Hawkes in 2001.
He made the trip to Agnes Banks to ride Avilius on Monday and echoed Cummings’ view that the wet ground will suit given what unfolded two weeks ago.
“We tried to get in front of a few we’d class as chances (in the Chelmsford) and we ended up wide without any cover and working into it,’’ he said.
“He presented and it was only the last part of the race he started to feel the pinch.
“His run levelled out and the ground rode a little bit firm so I’m really pleased for him there has been rain around.’’