By Ray Hickson
Trainer John O’Shea is happy to defer to the form of premiership front-runner James McDonald to guide consistent galloper Southern Lad through a potentially perilous scenario in Saturday’s Bentley Winter Dash (1200m) at Randwick.
As confident as O’Shea is that the five-year-old is in the right race he said he’d prefer not to have a repeat of what happened a month ago, when third to Coruscate in the At Sea (1100m) as an odds-on favourite.
Southern Lad ran a last 600m of 35.56 in that race (Punter's Intelligence data), 0.02 outside the race’s best and just 0.04 quicker than the winner so faced an impossible task.
McDonald, an 18.5 win leader as he eyes successive premierships, rode Southern Lad on that occasion so will be keen to right the leger on the $2.70 TAB favourite.
“When he was beaten on heavy ground by Coruscate I think it was more to do with him having to make up significant ground off a slow speed,’’ O’Shea said.
“I just worry about how far he will get back, if there isn’t anywhere for him to slot in he will end up three pairs back, one off, and that’s going to mean he will have to a bit of work.
“He’s not going to run poorly, it’s just the machinations of the race on the heavy ground. He has an awkward draw, Mac is going to have to sum it up when he jumps out.’’
The gelding has since run a close second to Everest runner Classique Legend in the Listed Bob Charley AO Stakes where he clocked another slick 34.97 last 600m to be beaten half a length.
O’Shea said that performance highlighted how much better Southern Lad is when the track isn’t heavy, though he’s competent in it given his recent form and his win at this meeting last year on a heavy 8, but said the conditions won’t be an excuse on Saturday.
“I thought we had him spot on the other day and gave ourselves a great chance of knocking off the grey horse,’’ he said.
“He has a fairer weight, it’s heavy ground again and I know he gets through it but I think he is probably better on the drier ground.”
Next month’s Listed Ramornie Handicap (1200m) at Grafton is Southern Lad’s target.
The Randwick trainer is forecasting an improved showing from Bergen in the Sky Racing Active Handicap (1400m) after a torrid run when resuming three weeks ago.
Bergen, $8.50 with TAB, ran seventh behind True Detective after going forward from a wide gate but that won’t be happening this time around from gate three.
“He had no luck the other day facing the breeze in a fast run race,’’ O’Shea said.
“He did a good job until his condition gave out. He’s a horse that has had no luck barrier wise and he’s drawn a gate so he presents with an opportunity to get in behind the lead.
“I think he will run a good race.’’
Brenton Avdulla rides Bergen as well as honest filly Lillemor for O’Shea in the Heineken 3 Handicap (1200m), the latter beaten into third place on a heavy 10 at Canterbury last week.
Southern Lad runs second at Randwick on June 6
O’Shea said Lillemor didn’t relish the trying ground last start and that’s his major concern.
“She probably just got carved up in a fast run race the other day,’’ he said.
“She gets through soft ground, I don’t know about the ground we’ll get on Saturday but the key is she’s fit and racing well.’’
Meanwhile, promising three-year-old Quantico heads to Newcastle on Saturday to finally kick off his campaign in the Red Funnel Handicap (1200m).
The colt has been scratched from a couple of recent city engagements due to the heavy tracks and O’Shea has found Tom Sherry to take 1.5kg off his 61kg.
“We’re just trying to get drier ground, he’s trialling well and going well at home,’’ he said.