Saturday spotlight; Racing highlights from Caulfield and Rosehill
A rails-hugging ride from champion jockey Damien Oliver has helped favourite Viridine to a determined victory in Melbourne's final stakes race of the 2019-20 season at Caulfield.
The James Cummings-trained Viridine was the $2.70 favourite in Saturday's weight-for-age Group Three Bletchingly Stakes (1200m) and Oliver was able to position the sprinter midfield early before improving to be in a position to strike entering the home straight.
Oliver was able to take a run along the fence to the inside of Great Again in the straight and Viridine went on to defeat Group One Futurity Stakes winner Streets Of Avalon, who was first-up from a spell, by three-quarters of a length.
Great Again held on for third, another long neck away.
Oliver said he had learned a lot from riding Viridine in the Sir John Monash Stakes at Caulfield two weeks earlier, when the sprinter finished second to Jungle Edge, and was focused on getting him to switch off in Saturday's race.
"He wasn't brilliant away so I wanted to work on getting him relaxed and let the rest of the race unfold," Oliver said.
"He quickened better today when he spat the bit out. I was kind of surveying my options when we came to the turn. I could see them opening up a little bit. One of them was going to the fence and got a bit neat. The horse was going well enough to push through.
"I think he's well placed around this mark just below the better ones. The short distances are the key, too. James has got him going really well and placing him well."
Warrnambool-trained gelding Mystery Shot has earned himself a break after landing his fifth win on end with a tough on-pace performance at Caulfield.
Mystery Shot took out Saturday's Neds Bet Back Handicap on Saturday to follow successive Caulfield victories after country wins to open his career at Warrnambool and Ballarat.
Ridden by Michael Rodd, Mystery Shot was sent off the $1.65 favourite in defeating Wicklow Town ($11) by a neck with Savvy Lad ($21) three-quarters of a length away third.
Trainer Lindsay Smith admitted to some nervous moments during Saturday's race after Damien Oliver, riding Wicklow Town, made a mid-race move to take up the lead.
But Rodd did not allow Wicklow Town to cross to the fence, joining the leader turning for home with the pair staging a two-horse was up the Caulfield straight.
"I was doing a bit of twitching on the turn and thought this is not going to be as easy as last time," Smith said.
"It's good to win five in a row and I'll speak to the team, but I'm thinking he'll go and see a bit of green grass."
A pair of European imports have put the writing on the wall for the spring and given trainer Kris Lees plenty to think about as he plots their respective campaigns.
Mugatoo and Korcho, both syndicated by Australian Bloodstock, have stamped their class at Rosehill with impressive victories.
Mugatoo's Rosehill win came on the back of a promising first Australian preparation, highlighted by a Canberra Cup victory and Manion Cup placing.
Next month's Premier's Cup (1900m) at Rosehill is likely to be Mugatoo's next stop but beyond that Lees is keeping an open mind.
"He will be entered for everything. He's the type who could go to an Epsom or a Metropolitan," Lees said.
"He was a little bit fresh today but I shouldn't judge him on that because he was first-up.
"I'm in no rush to get him to weight-for-age but this could be the season to try him at that level because he has the acceleration."
Lees had been unsure if Mugatoo would be sharp enough to win the Winter Challenge and said a genuine pace helped his cause.
"We probably got a better tempo than what it looked on paper but he picked up some nice horses there and he was pretty strong through the line, which is what we wanted to see," Lees said.
Second Listed win in Australia for Mugatoo in the Winter Challenge Hcp. One of 23 SWs for Henrythenavigator, his dam Gr2 Elopa. @Leesracing @HugeBowman @ausbloodstock2 @Goffs1866 @atc_races pic.twitter.com/OU39DCYhgF— Pedigree Update (@pedigreeupdate) July 25, 2020
Former Victorian Eduardo has made a winning debut for new trainer Joe Pride, holding off the fast-finishing Roheryn to claim the July Sprint at Rosehill.
Group One placed in last year's Oakleigh Plate, Eduardo had lost form during the autumn and was transferred to Pride after finishing midfield in a Flemington sprint in May.
"There was a bit of a moment of truth for him at about the furlong but I was happy to see him really respond under Nash's riding and give that good kick," Pride said.
"There's a good chance we will come here in a couple of weeks for the Missile but I'm just happy to have him back."