Big Duke expected to lift at Sandown after change in gear

Hunter owners Australian Bloodstock (AB) believe blinkers could be the difference for Melbourne Cup runner Big Duke when he backs up in the group 2 Zipping Classic (2400 metres) at Sandown on Saturday.

IN THE MIX: Big Duke and jockey Brenton Avdulla, centre with red cap, drive towards the finish line in the Melbourne Cup on November 7 at Flemington. Picture: AAP Image

IN THE MIX: Big Duke and jockey Brenton Avdulla, centre with red cap, drive towards the finish line in the Melbourne Cup on November 7 at Flemington. Picture: AAP Image

The six-year-old gelding was fourth in the Cup (3200m) and trainer Darren Weir had no hesitation in then targeting the Sandown race. Big Duke was in a three-way battle with 2016 Cup winner Almandin and The Taj Mahal for favouritism in the $300,000 event on Friday.

AB co-director Luke Murrell was hopeful the change in gear would give Big Duke the edge.

“From our point of view, the Melbourne Cup wasn’t a real staying test this year,” Murrell said. “They didn’t go that hard and he’s a tough horse, so he pulled up really well. It’s not ideal going back in trip but he gets the blinkers on for the first time and I reckon he’s been wanting them from the moment he got here, so I’ll be very interested to see how he goes.

“All his jockeys have said that he likes to look around, which is not ideal if you want them to stay. Whether it stops him gawking around or fires him up, we’ll see, but I think he’ll run top two.”

AB also have Raw Impulse in the group 3 Eclipse Stakes (1800m) at Sandown. The six-year-old entire was a fast-finishing second at Flemington last Saturday.

“He probably feels the Australian tracks more than you want,” Murrell said. “He ran really well the other day on a firmer track but we’re just hoping for rain. If he gets that, I think he’ll win.”

Also at Sandown, Newcastle trainer Kris Lees’ Yulong Xingsheng will chase a first black-type win in the listed $120,000 Twilight Glow Stakes (1400m).

Murrell, meanwhile, was hoping for a soft track at Rosehill where Lees-trained veterans Singing and Slow Pace are in the 1900m event.

“It’s an unusually hard race for this time of the year,” Murrell said.

“If we get a wet track, I think they can both run top two, and they are both the outsiders.

“Slow Pace is flying. He’s 10 years old and Kris said it’s like he’s a three year old. He can’t believe how fresh and happy he is. It’s just a different horse.”

Lees Racing reports: 

KRIS Lees is keeping his fingers crossed forecast rain eventuates prior to tomorrow’s Rosehill Gardens meeting.

“I hope it does rain; it will suit all my horses,” Lees said this morning.

The stable’s runners are:

ROSA CAROLINA (Tye Angland, 1400m Benchmark 82 Handicap);

SINGING (Andrew Gibbons) and SLOW PACE (Josh Parr) in 1900m Handicap);

STAR REFLECTION (Brenton Avdulla, 1200m Benchmark 80 Handicap); and

SAVOUREUX (Tim Clark, 1100m Benchmark 96 Handicap).

Rosehill this morning was overcast, but rated a “Good 3” with a penetrometer reading of 4.61. The rail is 6m out for the entire course.

Lees has opted for blinkers on Singing, attempting to get him back into the winning list following two runs since resuming.

“Just trying to stimulate him,” he said. Both he and Slow Pace might not even run unless the rain arrives because I couldn’t see them beating Interlocuter (odds-on favorite) on a firm surface.

“Slow Pace has trialled well (beating stablemate and yesterday’s Port Macquarie winner Bastia over 1200m on the Beaumont track on November 6) and might give a bit of cheek first-up.”

Singing, an eight-year-old, wasn’t disgraced on resumption when fifth to Destiny’s Kiss in the Listed Wyong Cup (2100m) on September 1, then was slowly away when a well-beaten sixth to Interlocuter over 1800m at Randwick on October 28.

Slow Pace, last year’s Wyong Cup winner on heavy ground, hasn’t raced since May and is now 10 years of age.

He also won the Listed Anzac Day Cup (2400m) at Randwick in April on a soft surface. They have been his only two Australian victories.

Rosa Carolina appreciated the sting out of the track when runner-up to Star Sensation in a Benchmark 76 Handicap (1300m) at Randwick on Melbourne Cup day (November 7).

“She goes up in grade, but drops 2.5kg as a result and has the rails alley,” Lees said.

Rosa Carolina’s two wins have been on soft ground and she has also been placed on four occasions on that type of surface.

Star Reflection is resuming, and won a 1000m Beaumont barrier trial on November 6 in preparation for tomorrow’s assignment.

“She is a very consistent mare and, though starting off again in Saturday grade in town, is not without a chance,” Lees said.

Star Reflection’s four wins to date have been achieved on good, soft and heavy ground.

Another mare resuming is Savoureux, and she has already come in for lengthy odds backing, punters obviously anticipating she will strike a wet track.

“She definitely needs the rain to come to be effective in this race,” Lees said.

“Savoureux gets back and it would be virtually impossible for her to pick them up from her outside draw and with the rail out if the track remains good.”

Lees’ promising English import Wallangarra, who clinched a hat-trick at Hawkesbury last Wednesday at his first metropolitan midweek appearance, may have one more start before a break.

Wallangarra has raced only four times since joining the stable, and turned in an excellent performance to score at the ATC meeting at Hawkesbury after being forced wide and yet still did his best work over the closing stages to score with 58.5kg over 2000m.

Yulong Xingsheng will carry the stable’s hopes at Sandown tomorrow as the curtain falls on the Melbourne spring carnival.

Lees gave earnest consideration to making a late dash with Doukhan to contest the $150,000 Listed Sandown Cup (3200m), but decided to keep him at home for a Canterbury assignment on Wednesday.

Yulong Xingsheng (Kerrin McEvoy) contests the $120,000 Listed Twilight Glow Stakes (1400m), attempting to clinch a black type breakthrough.

“She was unlucky last time out at Flemington, but we’re going to need some luck again tomorrow,” Lees said this morning.

“Yulong Xingsheng is a nice filly deserving of a black type success.

“She has drawn awkwardly (11 in a field of 15), so we’ll roll forward to try to overcome that.

“If Kerrin can have some luck on her, she is definitely capable of figuring in the finish.

“This will be her last start this campaign. She will come home and have a break before the autumn carnival in Sydney.”

Yulong Xingsheng, an I Am Invincible filly, has raced only five times and was a debut winner at Canterbury over 1100m in January at her only start for now Hong Kong-based Michael Freedman.

She finished second to Torvill in the Listed Reginald Allen Quality (1400m) at Royal Randwick on October 14 prior to her fourth to Our Crown Mistress in the Listed Lexus Hybrid Plate (1400m) at Flemington on Melbourne Cup day (November 7).

Stewards reported she overraced in the middle stages and was blocked for a run at a vital stage at the 400m.

Doukhan, back to winning form at Randwick on Melbourne Cup day, will run in a Benchmark 75 Handicap (2700m) at Canterbury on Wednesday.

Only seven horses were entered, but the Australian Turf Club extended the closing deadline until 11am today.

“The Sandown Cup isn’t a big field, but Canterbury looked an easier option once I saw the entries yesterday afternoon,” Lees said.

Lees named Serene Miss (Jason Collett) as the pick of his three runners at tonight’s Canterbury meeting.

Serene Miss contests the Benchmark 70 Handicap (1200m), whilst Juventus (Glyn Schofield) resumes in the 3YO Maiden (1200m) and The Wasp, scratched from Hawkesbury two days ago, lines up in the Benchmark 70 Handicap (1100m) against her own sex.

A Northern Meteor four-year-old, Serene Miss is unbeaten from only two starts.

She scored on debut on the Beaumont track over 1150m, and had no problem jumping a grade to easily beat her Class 2 (1100m) rivals at Scone on October 27.

“Serene Miss chipped a knee, but has come back in really good order,” Lees said.

“She is ready to step up to city grade.

“I scratched The Wasp from Hawkesbury on Wednesday when she drew wide. She has been placed at both runs this time in and, with a better draw, has a chance tonight for sure.”