By Tony Megahey
Previously flawed talent Affinity Beyond has mended her ways spectacularly to have rising trainer Luke Pepper upbeat about breaking an extended TAB Highway drought at Royal Randwick on Saturday.
Affinity Beyond has given exhibitions of low level flying to obliterate the class record and clock near a track record over 1000m at Wagga Wagga recently after winning by five lengths at Canberra, also in cracking time.
Pepper, in hot form with a treble that Wagga race day, guarantees upside third-up from a spell.
So with only half a kilogram more attempting a winning treble, all form logic has her contesting favouritism into a TAB $75,000 Class 2, 1100m at headquarters.
There are two Highway races scheduled by Racing NSW on a fundraising day for the bush fire appeal.
While times can be misleading, the acceleration and winning margins of the Starspangledbanner filly can’t be understated in restricted country grade.
“We’ve always had a big opinion of her, super quick filly but she had some issues so we spelled and sent her back for more education,” explains Luke, the former track work rider for champion international sprinter Takeover Target.
“Basically she was field shy, highly strung and resented other horses around her.''
Affinity Beyond wins at Wagga on January 9
“She’s always had exceptional ability, still real busy and can be wayward, but this prep she’s bringing that ability to the races.
“It’s always exciting when your owners are looking at a realistic chance of winning three straight and this time on the big stage. The way she’s been winning, tells us she’s ready for the next step.”
Pepper has had a frustrating run of placings in the Highway series since his injury prone stable star Appoint Percy won a Royal Randwick episode in early 2016.
He says the extreme outside barrier 12 is of little concern as Affinity Beyond carries 55kg for Simon Miller who rode the filly in both recent wins, eased down.
“I prefer her drawn middle or wider rather than inside, cluttered up and uncomfortable,” Luke adds.
“She’ll have the room she needs to balance up. She drew the outside at Wagga so she’s got the gate speed get across.”
Scone trainer Stephen Jones is confident about the prospects of the Gerry Harvey owned Mr Wong who resumes and with the influence of Hugh Bowman is favourite for the first TAB Highway also a $75,000 Class 2 over 1100m.
“We’re ready, I’ve kept him fresh and forward enough for 1100m, he’s won first-up before that distance range,” Jones said.
“The right jockey and he’s had some nice strong gallops going into the race.
“We’re drawn out but no issue, his pattern is to get back anyway. With the pace on, plan is to balance up and come down the centre, big straight suits and he was unlucky at 1100m there last prep.”
Mr Wong is a $4 favourite in a wide betting race while Affinity Beyond is $3.40 and pressing for favouritism in the second episode.