Hawkesbury's TAB Clarendon Stakes for two-year-olds often uncovers a young horse of the future. No better example is 2013 winner Zoustar, who subsequently clinched two Group 1 victories before being retired to stud as the winner of six of his only nine starts.
Like Zoustar, Godolphin’s 2008 winner Fravashi scored at Hawkesbury at his second start, then won the Group 2 Sires' Produce Stakes at Eagle Farm and another two Group races in Sydney and Melbourne before retiring as the winner of five of his 10 appearances.
Another renewal comes around on Saturday at Hawkesbury’s 13th annual TAB Stand-alone fixture when the $125,000 event over 1300m shapes as one of the most keenly-anticipated races on the nine-race program.
The pre-race hype surrounds Newcastle colt Graff, the current $3.30 favourite with TAB fixed odds; but his trainer Kris Lees isn’t buying into it – at least not yet.
A winner at his only start at Rosehill Gardens on Easter Monday (April 2) in a 2YO Maiden (1100m), Graff steps into Saturday metropolitan company with Brisbane winter carnival aspirations on the line.
Since his Rosehill victory, the Star Witness colt drew further praise when he came from near last on the turn, sweeping along the inside rail to win a 1040m barrier trial at Randwick on April 16 without being pushed out. Kerrin McEvoy rode him in the trial, and partners him again on Saturday.
“I sent Graff to Sydney to trial because of the gap of nearly four weeks between runs,” Lees explained. “There is plenty of talk about him, but it might be a touch early at this stage.
“Graff is a nice horse who has needed some time, and I like him. But you want to see them string two or three wins together first before you start getting carried away.”
Graff, who carries the Schillaci and Grand Armee colours of successful owner Alan Bell, will be amongst Lees’s Brisbane winter carnival entries when they close early next week if he wins or races well tomorrow.
“A race such as the JJ Atkins Stakes (1600m at Doomben on June 9) could suit him; I’m sure he will manage a mile,” Lees said. “The 1300m at Hawkesbury is definitely going to suit him better than the 1100m of his first win at Rosehill.”
Lees has two other Hawkesbury runners – Articus (Jean Van Overmeire, $19) and Hallelujah Boy (Jason Collett, $6.50) – but has withdrawn Danish Twist from the Group 3 Godolphin Crown (1300m) because of her wide barrier. Similarly, he opted not to send Japanese import Hallelujah Boy to Brisbane when he also drew poorly in a Class 6 Plate (1630m).
“The 1500m at Hawkesbury will suit him,” Lees said. “He was strong late when fourth in the Provincial Championships Final (1400m) at Randwick a fortnight ago. He’s getting close to his first Australian win.”
Lees has put a nose roll back on recent arrival Articus, and also gained stewards’ permission to apply synthetic hoof filler to both hind legs for the $200,000 Group 3 Livamol Hawkesbury Gold Cup (1600m): “It’s hard to recommend him, but he is capable of surprising the day he gets the right (wet) surface,” he said.
Leading Sydney trainer Chris Waller also had the option of sending Orcein ($3.70 second fav), one of Graff’s Clarendon Stakes rivals, to Brisbane for an early winter carnival assignment at Doomben tomorrow, but decided to keep him at home to resume in the Hawkesbury race, with Blake Shinn his rider.
Orcein, a colt by Snitzel, had drawn the rails for the Listed Dalrello Stakes (1200m). He has been placed at two of his three starts and has trialled twice recently; the latest behind Graff in the Randwick trial when unable to obtain clear running in the straight and untested to the post. Waller has chosen to take blinkers off Orcein and instead race him in a tongue tie.
Yesterday’s Kembla Grange winner La Courbette won’t back up in the Richmond Club Provincial Stayers Benchmark 84 Handicap (2100m), leaving 13 to run. Impressive last start Rosehill winner Roman Son (McEvoy, $1.90 fav) is all the rage, and is one of the day’s two shortest-priced favourites (the other being She Knows at $1.70 in the 1100m TAB Highway Handicap).
Hawkesbury this morning was rated a Good 4 with a penetrometer reading of 4.86. Only 1mm of rain was received overnight and 16mm of irrigation has been put on the track in the past week, but none in the last 24 hours. The rail is in the TRUE position, and racing will begin at 11.50am.
PAUL JOICE'S SELECTIONS
RACE 1: SHE KNOWS, Don’t Doubt Her, Our Rosemaree.
RACE 2: GRAFF, Orcein, Stunts.
RACE 3: GAULOIS, Philosophy, Stonebrook.
RACE 4: BEZEL, Up ‘N’ Rolling, Nat King Cu.
RACE 5: KURO, Glenall, Tango Rain.
RACE 6: NANCY, Invincibella, Sedanzer.
RACE 7: ECUADOR, Duca Valentinois, Kingsguard.
RACE 8: VICTOREM, Warranty, Sambro.
RACE 9: ROMAN SON, Letter To Juliette, Naval Warfare.
SPECIALS: ROMAN SON, GRAFF, GAULOIS