Punters have zeroed in on the winner of the Toorak Handicap with regular success over the past five years, but with this year’s edition to be held at Caulfield Saturday offering 4-1 the field in early markets, increasing that strike rate may prove a difficult task. Disposition is the early favourite ($4.80) after her close second in the Rupert Steele Stakes, the race that has produced the past two winners of the Toorak. Winner of the Rupert Steele was Darren Weir’s Stratum Star ($7.00) who, if successful here, will give the Ballarat trainer a unique double after he claimed last year’s Rupert Clarke/Toorak double with Trust In A Gust. Only top-weight Lucky Hussler ($5.50) and Noble Protector ($8.00) are under double figure odds in early betting with early support at bigger odds for Peter Moody’s pair Kenjorwood ($17 into $15) and Abidewithme ($15 into $13)
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1. LUCKY HUSSLER – G Boss (4)
Two runs back from a spell for this G1 winner have been excellent with the most recent being in the Rupert Clarke Stakes (1400m). He drew gate 2 in that event and settled worse than midfield on the fence, a position from which he had limited luck in the run home and he should’ve finished closer than his sixth (1.7 lengths) behind Stratum Star. Last start over a mile he ran a head second to Hucklebuck in the G1 Emirates Stakes. Is right in this.
2. STRATUM STAR – C Williams (2)
Well ridden in the Memsie and was in the thick of a tight finish, running third (head) to Boban and Entirely Platinum before, courtesy of a great ride from a wide gate by Williams, he was given every chance in the Sir Rupert Clarke Stakes and took full advantage of his position to win narrowly from Disposition. Gets a charmed run again from gate two you’d imagine and only needs a touch of luck on the turn to continue his exceptional run of form.
3. LEEBAZ – J Winks (12)
Stopped quickly over the final stages after leading the field to run twelfth of fourteen in the Listed Sofitel Stakes (1400m) first up, before finishing ninth (2.4 lengths) in the Sir Rupert Clarke Stakes at his only run since. Sat three wide with cover just off the speed from a wide gate last start and only held his position in the straight. At best when rolling along on the speed but on his two runs back, hard to see him holding off the challengers here should he find that position from a wide draw.
4. STRAWBERRY BOY – J Cassidy (16)
He was caught in the last few hops first up when trying to lead all the way in the G2 Theo Marks by Winx and Sons Of John – both of whom performed very well in the Epsom Handicap since, before again leading until the dying stages when fourth (0.6 lengths) in the Rupert Clarke Stakes. Like then, has drawn very wide here but the 7yo gelding is going as well as ever. You’ll know he’ll go forward, give a kick off of the turn but it’s the last 100m you’ll have to worry about.
5. NINTH LEGION – B Shinn (5)
Excellent first up in the Theo Marks (1300m) – which has proven to be a very hot form race, before finishing sixth (2.3 lengths) behind Vashka in the G2 Shannon Stakes (1500m) at his only start since. Thought we may have seen a bit more from him last time out but he was second up, carried 58kgs to the winner’s 53kgs, and just didn’t have the zip to go with them when the pace picked up. Down in weights now, drawn well, top jock on and represents an each-way chance at odds.
6. PUCCINI – B Melham (3)
New Zealand galloper who’ll have to improve significantly on each of the two runs he has produced since returning from a spell to be winning here. His most recent saw him make little impression from the tail of the field in an Open Class (1700m) race won by Kenjorwood. Did have 61.5kgs and it was his first run for a month, but has a lot of ground to make up on that winner whom he meets again here.
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7. DISPOSITION – D Dunn (7)
Sent out the 5/4 favourite for her return to racing in the Listed Sofitel Stakes (1400m) and didn’t let the punters down, always having the race in her control and winning by a length from Akavoroun. She was then put in the box set by Oliver when contesting the Rupert Clarke Stakes and was only out-bobbed on the lined by Stratum Star, who had the last shot. Going well, will get another good run here from seven and loses nothing with Dunn to ride. Hard to picture a finish without her involved in it.
8. KENJORWOOD – V Duric (9)
Has finished in the top four his past sixteen consecutive starts, including a fourth (3.2 lengths) to The Cleaner at WFA in the G2 Dato Tan Chin Nam two starts back. The only start since for the Peter Moody trained galloper has a typically honest all the way win in the Open Class here at Caulfield a fortnight ago, under 57.5kgs kilos. Just can’t be written off from running a race given his record and current form.
9. AMICUS – SCRATCHED
10. FLAMINGO STAR – C Newitt (14)
Got as close to winning his first Australian race since joining the Chris Waller yard from the UK earlier this year, when finishing second by Vashka in the G2 Shannon Stakes (1500m) a fortnight ago. Gets up to a mile now, a more favourable journey according to his European results, drops in weight and fourth run in, will be as fit as he can be but. This his toughest test to date in Australia but conditions – weight, distance, speed, should be all in his favour.
11. HI WORLD – K McEvoy (13)
After a promising 3yo season, this High Chaparral stallion hasn’t quite lived up to expectation in his three runs back as 4yo. He was ok first up in the Memsie Stakes when getting every chance as 5/1 chance, before struggling in both the G1 Makybe Diva and G1 Underwood Stakes, running tenth and seventh respectively. Much better suited here at the weights but for him to bounce back, think we’d need to see the track rated soft or worse.
12. HOPFGARTEN – G Colless (1)
Trainer Rob Heathcote has won this race twice in the past three years with his grand campaigner Solzhenitsyn and will be hoping this can continue the run. He was set a task first up in the Rupert Clarke Stakes, settling well back from a wide gate before searching with limited luck, for runs in the straight. His effort to finish twelfth, only three lengths of the lead, wasn’t bad all things considered. Gets a much sweeter run here from the inside alley but as he has done in the past, just might find this grade a bit too rich.
13. NOBLE PROTECTOR – M Walker (6)
Started the 2/1 favourite for her return in the G2 Let’s Elope Stakes but left punters dumbfounded when finishing thirteen of sixteen, almost six lengths behind winner Amicus. Given a month off since and a hit-out earlier this week in a Cranbourne Trials to recover. Not the ideal preparation leading into a Group 1 but is a class mare and has drawn well. The $8.50 on offer makes it tempting to forgive her and give her another go.
14. JACQUINOT BAY – C Parnham (18)
Made the in-form Kenjorwood fight for a narrow victory last start when second (head) in the Open Class (1700m) event at Caulfield. That was his third run back from a spell and with the drop in weight of 5.5kgs, couldn’t not be better prepared for a shot at a Group 1 however, the draw make this hard for him as he’ll have plenty of work to do early to found a spot on what should be, a very competitive pace.
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15. ABIDEWITHME – P Moloney (11)
Good win first up in Open Fillies and Mares Class, coming from last to claim Set Square by a head over the 1400m journey. The well-bred Redoute’s Choice mare than had a month off before lining up in the G1 Rupert Clarke Stakes and did very well given she jumped from the widest gate in a field of seventeen, finishing eighth (2.1 lengths) to Stratum Star. Gets more a chance form eleven here and has been supported in early markets ($15 into $13).
16. AKAVOROUN – L Currie (15)
Excellent first up from a spell to run second to Disposition before being taken to Sydney for the G2 Shannon Stakes by trainer Ciaron Maher. Started the 7/2 favourite but never really raised backer’s hopes running ninth (2.7 lengths) to Vashka who dominated proceedings from the front. Better than that but not sure that good to overcome fifteen gate in a quality field.
17. RYTHYM TO SPARE – D Moor (10)
Found plenty of traffic in the straight at his second start back from an extended spell and could’ve finished closer than his seventh (2.6 lengths) to Good Value than he did. Ran a close-up fifth (1.3 lengths) in this race last year behind Trust In A Gust and for those wanting to go wide in an open race, could do worse than throwing this bloke into the multiples.
18. MOONOVERMANHATTAN – M Dee (8)
Kept finding second-up from a spell when a good third (head) to Good Value before holding his ground in the run home again when third (4.2 lengths) to Burning Front in a BM 90. Assigned 58kgs last time and whilst he does get down to 52kgs here, he’ll need it longer and easier than this to be winning.
RACE OVERVIEW –
Strawberry Boy, Hi World, Jacquinot Bay and Leebaz, all draw outside of gate 10, will ensure a good speed and be kept honest by the likes of Ninth Legion, Stratum Star and Disposition who will all be keen to make there good draws count. Going with Lucky Hussler here; from gate four, he should be within striking distance on the turn and due for a change of luck on recent runs – which have been very good. Stratum Star for second. Third up last prep he finished a narrow third behind Wandjina and Alpine Eagle in the Australian Guineas which was also over this distance and gets a lovely run behind the solid pace from gate two. A few at longer odds that create interest for mine are Flamingo Star, Rhythm To Spare and Abidewithme.
1. LUCKY HUSSLER
2. STRATUM STAR
4. FLAMINGO STAR