By Ray Hickson
A tough run against older and more experienced horses could be the edge promising three-year-old Ellsberg needs in Saturday’s Group 3 $160,000 NZB Spring Stakes (1600m) at Newcastle.
Co-trainer Sterling Alexiou said it’s not normal practice to throw a ‘raw’ horse like Ellsberg in the deep end as was the case at Rosehill two weeks ago but the fact he was able to measure up says plenty about his potential.
The colt went down by half a length to Enchanted Heart on a heavy track in a 1400m Benchmark 72 for three and four-year-olds after winning on debut at Warwick Farm 17 days earlier.
“It’s hard to go from a maiden to a Class 1 and win let alone go straight to Saturday grade and be competitive at his second start,’’ Alexiou said.
“We bumped into a four-year-old mare the other day, we didn’t intend to race a three-year-old at his second start against a mare that’s won five races (now six) but that’s what happened with the race. A mile is the right progression coming out of that run.
“While he is inexperienced we’d rather keep him to his own age group.”
Whether it was the heavy track, lack of experience or the way the race was run, or a combination, Ellsberg looked a beaten horse early in the straight.
After sitting outside the leader he was noticeably outsprinted – he ran the race’s slowest sectional from the 400m-200m of 11.20 but then produced the meeting’s fastest last 200m of 11.25 (Punter's Intelligence).
Alexiou said he came out of the run well and, while he handled the heavy, expects a dry track to be more to Ellsberg’s liking. The colt is $5.50 with TAB.
“He’s continued to do really well at home and though it’s his first preparation he seems to have improvement from run to run,’’ he said.
“He’s a horse we’ve always had a lot of time for and he’s just needed time himself.
“The race looks devoid of speed and I’d imagine he'll put himself in the first couple and be hard to beat.”
A return to a firmer track will suit Saas Fee in the Bass Floor Handicap (1400m) after a battling, but close up, fifth behind Segalas at Rosehill two weeks ago.
She’s a $26 chance with TAB but Alexiou warned she shouldn’t be underestimated.
“I thought her run had a bit of merit the other day. She’s another one getting back onto a good surface that will suit her better,’’ he said.
“Where she fits into the race I’m not too sure but she is going well at home and I imagine she won’t disgrace.”
The quick back up from a gutsy, off the canvas, win last Saturday is no issue for Fortress Command ($3.80) stepping up in distance in the Senpos Point Of Sale Handicap (1850m).
Ellsberg runs second at Rosehill on October 24
The gelding, who has won two from three since the ‘ultimate’ gear change, barely knows he’s had a race and Alexiou said the way he fought back when headed shows he’s ready for more ground.
As a three-year-old colt Fortress Command was tried at 2000m a couple of times but clearly wasn’t ready for it then.
“He’s coming out of a race that was basically a jog and sprint home so it probably sets up well for the quick back up because it didn’t take much out of him,’’ he said.
“If anything the step up should suit him. He was left a bit one paced the other day when they walked and it was an indication he was looking for further when he was strong on the line.
“He’s always been mentally not all there, early he was very babyish and last prep he wasn’t applying himself at his best. Hence we’ve seen his form turn around as soon as he got the ultimate gear change.”