By Ray Hickson
Trainer Ciaron Maher says classy stayer Yogi won’t be beaten on the score of fitness when he attempts to claim the Listed $150,000 Winter Cup first-up over 2400m at Rosehill on Saturday.
Australians are getting used to seeing middle distance and staying horses resume in their comfort zone – just two weeks ago Winter Cup favourite Hush Writer won the McKell Cup over the same course at his first run since October.
Maher said the six-year-old, who jumped $10 in the Group 1 Sydney Cup at his last start in April, has been kept up to the mark with beach work, and a clean out barrier trial, and has basically been in the stable the whole time.
“He’s never been out of work, he seems to be quite happy and well and he’s a very natural stayer so that’s the main thing,’’ Maher said.
“He has a lot of residual fitness and we freshened him up, he’s come up quite nicely for it.’’
Any training feat aside, if Yogi does win the Winter Cup with the 59kg it’ll stand as a weight carrying record for the race – Nuclear Sky had 58kg when he won in 2008 then you go back to 1978 to find the next highest weighted winner on 56kg.
Yogi ($6 with TAB) managed to win first-up, off a two mile win, over 1800m back in February before he was outclassed, but far from disgraced, at weight-for-age in the Group 1 Australian Cup and Group 1 Tancred Stakes.
Maher said it’s been a deliberate move to aim the at off season features like the Winter Cup, and potentially the 3200m Stayers Cup in two weeks.
“I don’t know if he is a real spring horse, maybe a Sandown Cup, but he was good fresh down at Caulfield and I thought we’d target these races,’’ he said.
With jockey Josh Parr forced to miss the meeting with a torn medial ligament to a knee, Glyn Schofield will ride Yogi on Saturday.
Maher and co-trainer David Eustace have one of the more interesting runners at Rosehill in the shape of import Mister Belvedere in the Tab.com.au Handicap (1800m).
The former English galloper made a winning debut for the stable scoring over a mile at Cranbourne on May 24 and Maher speaks enthusiastically about his future.
“I think he is the right sort of horse to have out here,’’ he said.
“He came with a rating where you can win a few races before you get to open company and the owners should have a bit of fun.
“Horses like him, genuine Saturday class horses, are affordable because they are racing for $125,000 every week.’’
Mister Belvedere ($6) hadn’t raced below 2000m for over two years prior to the Cranbourne race and Maher said though he will really excel when he progresses beyond that trip he feels he’s well placed.
“This is a lovely progressive race for him, a perfect rating,’’ he said.
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“His form was pretty good albeit over a bit further and we just kept him sharp and his class shone through (first-up).
“He’s drawn a bit wide, and we’ll have to do our homework there, but he travelled really well over a mile so I think he can be where we want.’’
Maher expects Paulita, another import, to be ready to strike her best form when she steps up in trip next start but would be disappointed if she doesn’t point to that in the TAB Rewards Handicap (1500m).
The American mare ($8) ran fifth first-up behind Kolding at Randwick and comes back to fillies and mares company with her top weight offset by Blaike McDougall’s 2kg claim.
“I could have gone to 1800m but I thought I’d give her another at 1500m because she just peaked on her tun the other day,’’ Maher said.
“She will improve and she shouldn’t be far away.’’