Mick Burles knows fellow Tassie battler The Cleaner is up against a world-class field in the $3 million Cox Plate but believes the $10,000 thoroughbred is just as good.
Burles says the star galloper is bigger and stronger than in 2014 when he ran ninth from a wide barrier, three lengths from the winner Adelaide.
The eight-year-old, who has been doing a lot of roadwork around Burles’ Longford base, will start from barrier two on Saturday.
“I wasn’t very happy last year but I think this year he’s got the barrier draw and everything in his favour. I haven’t got many excuses this year,” Burles said.
“I think he’s probably two (to) three lengths a better horse than he was last year.”
Burles has no doubt it’s a lot better field this year with the favourite, the Aidan O’Brien-trained Highland Reel, joined by fellow European gallopers Arod and Gailo Chop.
“They’re world-class horses but who’s to say this fellow’s not either.
“We’ll find out tomorrow.”
Highland Reel has been well-supported to repeat last year’s win by Adelaide for O’Brien and jockey Ryan Moore, and had firmed from $5.50 to $4.80 with the TAB on race eve.
Burles expects The Cleaner to set the early pace as he always does but also expects him to have plenty left in the latter part of the race.
“If he’s in front they’ve got to catch him and he won’t be sitting four-wide for 800 metres,” he said.
He also predicts The Cleaner will sprint home a lot quicker if he gets a nice bit of cover from another horse.
The Cleaner became a cult figure for his front-running style and the pair’s preference for catching a ferry to the mainland.
Burles readily embraces the battler status bestowed on both.
“It doesn’t matter if you pay $1 million for a horse or $1 for a horse, it doesn’t mean to say they’re any good.”
The knockabout trainer has no regrets about selling The Cleaner to three golfing mates when his training business took a downturn.
“I’ve still got him.
“I get on pretty well with him. He knows me back to bloody front. He knows my car.”
The Cleaner has 19 wins, 12 seconds and four thirds from 52 starts and has now amassed $1.2 million in prize money but Burles admits a Cox Plate would be the ultimate.
“It would mean the world to anybody, coming from where we’ve come.
“I’m only a battler. I have been all my life. To win something like that would be just the retirement ticket I reckon.”
Should the Cox Plate prove elusive on Saturday, The Cleaner will go to the Emirates Stakes at Flemington before a paddock rest and a road trip to Queensland for the 1800m Magic Millions Trophy on December 29.
“A million dollars, weight for age – everything’s in his favour. There wouldn’t be many Magic Millions horses about as good as him.”
Should they win the Cox Plate, the chance to have another shot in 2016 may outweigh retirement for Burles.
“If he hangs around for another year so will I.”
Article from JustHorseRacing.com.au