Newcastle Newmarket: Happy Clapper trainer Pat Webster keeps options open for title defence

RANDWICK trainer Pat Webster said the weather, and not weight, will dictate if Happy Clapper defends his Newcastle Newmarket Handicap (1400m) title on Friday.

COMMANDING: Happy Clapper and jockey Blake Shinn power to victory in the Newcastle Newmarket last year. Picture: Max Mason-Hubers

COMMANDING: Happy Clapper and jockey Blake Shinn power to victory in the Newcastle Newmarket last year. Picture: Max Mason-Hubers

The seven-year-old gelding was a surprise nomination on Monday for the group 3, which attracted 18 possible runners.

However, Happy Clapper, the Kris Lees-trained Clearly Innocent and Chris Waller’s Endless Drama were also nominated for the group 1 Canterbury Stakes (1300m) at Randwick on Saturday. The trio were on the second line of betting for the Canterbury Stakes at $6 with TAB Fixed Odds on Monday. Lees’ Invincible Gem was $8.

Happy Clapper dominated with a 3.5-length victory in the Newmarket last year carrying 59 kilograms. He went on to win the Tramway Stakes and group 1 Epsom Handicap as well as finishing second in the Doncaster Handicap, Mackinnon Stakes, Craven Plate and George Main Stakes.

Webster expected a 62-kilogram topweight for the resuming Happy Clapper if he accepted for the Newmarket but said “it’s really a weather thing, and it was last year when he went there”.

“He was always going to run in the Canterbury Stakes but with the weather we got, we went to Newcastle,” Webster said. 

“The weather will be the guide. At the end of the day, his main goal is the Doncaster so we’ll just wait and see.

“But that’s how it turned out last year, and it turned out nearly right, because he went on and if it had have been a heavy 8, he would have knocked It’s Somewhat off [in the Doncaster].”

Webster was full of praise for the newly opened, sand-based Newcastle course proper last year, but he was not expecting Randwick to cope with as much rain this time around. Randwick was a soft 5 on Monday and Newcastle a Good 4.

“It was beautiful [at Newcastle last year]. It was a soft 6 and they’d had a heap of rain, but it was a heavy 10 at Randwick,” he said. “And that’s the reason. You don’t want to pull their guts out, no matter if it’s a group 1 or not. You don’t want to flatten them first run.

“But there would have to be a lot of rain at Randwick, and I think they are only forecasting showers.”

Another surprise nomination on Monday was Lees’ Artlee, which joined stablemate and certain starter Sound Proposition in the list. Rod Ollerton’s Royal Tudor and Alan Scorse’s What Could Be were other Newcastle-trained entries.

The remaining nominations were Duca Valentinois, Invincible Quest, Kingsguard, Lanciato, Life Less Ordinary, Mister Sea Wolf, Tom Melbourne, Shiraz, Sir Moments, Special Missile and Spectroscope.

Webster added that the big weight would not be a problem at Newcastle.

“When you look at the weight for age ratio, he’s carrying 59 and chasing Winx around,” he said.

“So he’ll be carrying 62 and I’m open to surprises, but I doubt whether there’s going to be a Winx there.

“They’ve got to start somewhere, but I just can’t imagine a horse coming out the race on Friday and going on to win 20 straight.

“He worked this morning and we’re happy with him.

“He gets a new pair of slippers this afternoon to dance with on Friday or Saturday and we’re in a good spot with him either way.”