By Ray Hickson
Trainer Matthew Smith is confident he’s winning a battle of the mind with Group 1 placed Invictus Prince as he reinvents the seven-year-old as a sprinter in the short term.
That Group 1 placing was behind Winx, in the race named in the champ’s honour, back in the spring of 2018 but he didn’t re-enter the placings until his eye-catching first-up second at Randwick last month.
In between those podium visits Invictus Prince seemed to lose confidence for some reason and had a 14 month break from racing as Smith and his team turned horse whisperers and worked overtime to get the fire back into the gelding’s belly.
“He's been a real project, he was in the wrong headspace and just wasn’t a happy horse,’’ Smith said.
“We wanted to get a bit of confidence back in him and get his head right and wanting to race again.
“You keep analyzing what you’ve done right or wrong in previous preparations, why he wouldn’t want to jump, and go back to basics with him.”
So what are the ‘basics’?
“The horse has to be sound. Some horses are tough and might have a few issues and can handle it and race through it but others when they get issues can decide they don’t want to go,’’ Smith said.
“He is a thinker and you need to see them come out of the gates and really want to be there. You never know when a horse gets into the wrong frame of mind what they are going to do.
“You might have noticed I instructed Hugh (Bowman) not to use the whip the other day, I wanted him to have a good experience, like he had in the trials, and be confident.’’
After a short setback Invictus Prince proved to Smith that the work had paid off when he ran a close second to Coruscate over 1100m at Randwick on May 23, beating Southern Lad who last weekend pushed Classique Legend.
In that race Punter’s Intelligence sectional data showed he clocked the fastest last 200m of the day as he ran 12.09 and also the race’s best last 600m (35.54).
So Invictus Prince heads into the Iron Jack Handicap (1300m) at Rosehill on Saturday, where he opened a $12 chance with TAB, with Smith suggesting he’s a good chance of posting his first Australian win and first victory since May 2016.
“He’s flying and ready to go but he needs the race run to suit him, that’s always going to be the issue,’’ Smith said.
“If they walk in front he’s not going to win unless he can be in a position where he can flow forward and not get held up. He’s always needed a good strong gallop and if he doesn’t get it he can over race and won’t quicken. He needs to roll the entire race.
“There was no tempo in that race the other day at Randwick either so I can’t wait to see him when they run a genuine gallop and he can get into a rhythm like he did when he ran second to Winx.’’
Smith said it’s unlikely he’ll ask Invictus Prince to stretch out beyond about 1400m this preparation as work continues to keep the horse’s mind fresh and in the right headspace.
The Warwick Farm trainer takes a handy team to Rosehill and he’s expecting Sweet Thomas, Lashes and Tricky Gal to all make their presence felt while a heavy track may see Milk Man stay home.
Sweet Thomas ran fourth in the Group 1 Sydney Cup in April and has been freshened up since he failed in the Gosford Cup at Randwick five weeks ago.
He’s a $21 chance in the Listed $150,000 TAB Winter Cup (2400m) where he’s faced with a horde of Chris Waller stalwarts but Smith said an upset isn’t beyond him.
Invictus Prince runs second at Randwick on May 23
“I don’t know about him on the heavy ground but he trialled well in it at Canterbury. On his trial and his work he wouldn’t be too far off these horses with the light weight,’’ he said.
“His work was great on Tuesday, I can’t fault him, he’s really working well and it just comes down to the conditions and if he handles the track.’’
The Stayers Cup over 3200m in two weeks is the main goal for Sweet Thomas and Smith said he’ll then target some ‘second level’ staying features in the spring.
Lashes is in A1 order for her rematch with Adelong in the Catanachs Sprint (1100m) where she’s a whopping 6kg better off at the weights for a 2.5 length second.
Smith said she’s come on significantly since that first-up run and the weight swing gives her the chance to turn the tables with race fitness and an extra trial under her belt.
“She can be a little tardy out of the gates, that’s her only weakness, and that’s the only thing to worry about,’’ he said.
“I think her run first-up against Adelong was very good, she just got out of position and we were never going to run her down but she was good through the line.’’