New Zealand trainer Murray Baker won his first Underwood Stakes with The Phantom a quarter of a century ago.
Lion Tamer (2011) and It’s A Dundeel (2013) have added two more Underwood wins for Baker in the past four years and dual Derby winner and Cups contender Mongolian Khan will attempt to add to that tally on Saturday at Caulfield.
The Phantom’s Underwood victory on the corresponding weekend in 1990 was Baker’s first Australian Group One win, a year after the horse finished third in the event.
Baker is keeping expectations of a fourth win in the weight-for-age feature in check, saying 1800 metres is probably too short for Mongolian Khan.
“We’re pretty happy with him. I think he probably needs further to show his best, but we’re happy with him at the moment,” Baker said.
“I would be surprised (if he won), but he’s going well.”
Mongolian Khan became the first horse since Bonecrusher in 1986 to win the New Zealand Derby-Australian Derby double earlier this year before attention turned to the Melbourne spring.
“The Caulfield and Melbourne Cups are his main aims,” Baker said.
He said Mongolian Khan was likely to go to the Caulfield Stakes after the Underwood before backing up a week later in the Caulfield Cup.
The four-year-old entire turned in a pleasing first-up run in the Group One Makybe Diva Stakes (1600m), finishing seventh, just 1-3/4 lengths from the winner Fawkner who is favourite for the Underwood.
“He didn’t get much room in the last 150 metres,” Baker said.
“It was a good run.”
While the Makybe Diva Stakes developed into a sprint home, The Underwood is unlikely to be the same with noted front-runner The Cleaner in the field.
“I think it will help the race, full stop, with a bit of pace on,” Baker said.
“It’s going to be a truly run race, probably.”
Baker says Mongolian Khan, an $11 chance in the Underwood, is more an out-and-out stayer compared to his previous winners.
James McDonald won a memorable Underwood on the Baker-trained It’s A Dundeel, inflicting the only defeat on star mare Atlantic Jewel in her 11 starts.
McDonald rides Godolphin import Contributer on Saturday with the multiple weight-for-age winner out to bounce back from his unplaced run in the Dato Tan Chin Nam Stakes won by The Cleaner.