Local breeders Sandy Tait and Jill Nivison will have a nervous wait ahead of them as Cherry Tortoni readies for the Group One Victorian Derby at Flemington on Saturday.
The Night of Thunder gelding, that is out of Tortoni, and closely related to former track star, Tie The Knot, was at his scintillating best on Saturday, winning the Group Two Mooney Valley Vase.
The three-year-old, who was at the rear of the field early in the 2040m race, showed off a devastating turn of foot to round the field and find the lead on the home turn, before holding off Khoekhoe by 0.2 of a length, with Johnny Get Angry a further seven lengths away in third.
The win will stand the popular galloper in good stead for the Derby, with Cherry Tortoni now sharing favouritism with Young Werther; a runner that was coincidently scratched from the Mooney Valley Vase on Saturday.
Trainer Patrick Payne was the first to admit the win was a huge turnaround on his disappointing seventh in the Spring Champion Stakes at Royal Randwick on October 10.
“It’s amazing how things can turn around, I was dirty on myself after the Sydney run but today was much better,” Payne said.
The Victorian trainer was pleased with the efforts of his galloper, but said he was still doing little things wrong.
“From a trainer’s point-of-view, I didn’t think he had a hard run. We’ll never know but I still think he had something left in the tank,” Payne said.
“He looked like he wanted to stargaze when he got to the front but, still, it was good to see him back winning like that.”
As far as preparations for Saturday are concerned, Payne said he would leave it to Cherry Tortoni and how he pulled up during the week.
“We’re really mindful that, I think, he’ll be a nice four, five and six-year-old,” Payne said.
“It was a good tune-up for the Derby but if he shows us any signs that he doesn’t want to go there then we won’t.”
Still, the fact that Cherry Tortoni was still a little green pleased jockey, Billy Egan, who indicated he could win the Victorian Derby on natural ability.
“He’s got a lot of learning to do. To see what he’s doing now, all-natural ability, is really nice,” Egan said.
Egan rode Cherry Tortoni patiently at the rear of the field, settling him nicely before swooping around the field in one devastating motion.
“Once we got down the side, I just gave him breathing room and let him build his momentum and swoop on them over the top,” Egan said.
Connections weren’t granted much luck in the barrier draw for the $2 million race though, with Cherry Tortoni forced to jump from the car park in gate 14; the widest of any runner.
Winners and losers
There is ample local racing over the next few days even with Tumut not being able to race on Saturday.
Wagga is hosting an eight-race-program today, and one interesting runner is the Kerry Weir trained Cattledog Cod that returns in the 1000m Mad Scramble, which is a 1000m Open Handicap sprint.
The enigmatic sprinter is more than capable on his day, and boasts a handy first up record of five starts for two wins and a place, but has failed to run a place from seven starts on rain-affected tracks.
Connections draw gate four and Simon Miller will take the ride and Weir will be hoping the track dries out before the race.
Another talented local runner resuming at Wagga is the Dave Blundell trained Thistledo, who draws gate 12 in the feature event, the $27,000 Open Handicap over 1400m.
The Zariz gelding hasn’t been seen since running sixth at wagga back in June, but also boasts solid first up form and has a good strike rate on soft tracks, although winless on heavy surfaces.
The eight-year-old will have Josh Richards in the saddle in what is a very tough seven-furlong event.
In other local meetings, Goulburn race Sunday, Corowa on Monday, while Canberra and Moruya will be in action on Tuesday, which is also Melbourne Cup day.
There is no stopping Aaron Bullock at the moment, with the Tumut product riding two more winners this week.
Bullock led Timerox to a win in the 1200m Maiden Handicap for Melanie O’Gorman at Coonamble on Sunday, before travelling to Newcastle on Tuesday.
The Singleton based hoop jumped aboard General Soho for Paul Perry to win the time-honoured Jungle Juice Cup, bolting in by over a length to take out the $37,600 event.
Bullock will be kept busy over the weekend too, riding six times at Newcastle on Saturday and six times at Muswellbrook on Sunday.
Megan Creed is nearing closer to a race-riding return and would have been riding at Tumut on Saturday if it wasn’t for the meeting being abandoned.
The Tumut hoop may have to wait until Gundagai’s Snake Gully Cup meeting before her first ride back from maternity leave, with trainer Kerry Weir expected to be racing Deemed Corrupt in the feature maiden event.