Canberra trainer Todd Smart continued his terrific start to the 2021/22 racing season at his home track on Friday, with Honeysuckle Choice proving way too strong for her rivals in the 1000m Benchmark 60 Handicap.
Ridden by Brendan Ward, the Chosir mare found the front from noted speedsters No What To Keep (Mickael Sparrow/Winona Costin) and Lennox Road (Russell Steiner/Amy McLucas).
Despite being made to work hard, the six-year-old powered away for a four-length victory from the fast-finishing Diamond Class (Len Hodson/Richard Bensley), while Lennox Road toiled away to finish third, finishing some 6.7 lengths off the winner.
Honeysuckle Choice has been a consistent money earner for connections, joining Smart’s stable in 2019 after previously racing with Greg Eurell, and since then, she has raced 23 times for two wins and 11 placings.
In fact, both of her wins have arrived this preparation, with the in-form mare proving too good in a 920m Class Three Handicap at Moruya back in August before her recent Canberra victory.
“We have worked out that she doesn’t get any further 1100m,” Smart said.
“She can run a really strong 1000m or 900m, and another string to her bow is her form in the wet.”
Canberra raced on a heavy nine on Friday, and her trainer said it was a worry, as she was previously untried on very heavy surfaces.
“I didn’t think she would win that well. I knew she would be strong to the line, but I was a bit worried about the wet track,” Smart said.
“She is a horse that handles the wet, but only some horses handle the Canberra wet track, and she definitely did.”
Previously, Honeysuckle Choice had placed third over the 1200m in a tough Benchmark 60 Handicap, and the former Wagga trainer and Gundagai product, believed the six-furlong run primed his mare nicely ahead of her dominant win.
“She had that run over 1200m the other day after a five-week freshen up, and I thought dropping back in distance and on her home track, she would run a really strong 1000,” Smart said.
Now, the Gundagai-owned mare will have one more run before heading to the paddock.
“She has always run well at Canberra, and we will look to try and find another 1000m or 1100m race soon,” Smart said.
“She will probably go to the paddock soon, and we will go from there and see how long she needs.”
Smart has trained eight winners to start the season, and three winners this month alone.
Fantini won on Melbourne Cup day, proving too good in a 1000m Class Two Handicap art Canberra.
Recently, Smart was devastated when the Hair of the Dog Cup at Gundagai was abandoned on November 13, as he was set to run race favourite, Tobermory.
Smart’s agony was quickly extinguished when Tobermory turned out at Canberra the following day in the 1600m TAB Federal Handicap, winning the $34,000 race for jockey, Damon Budler.
“It was a good win. He is a horse that loves a wet track, and he went very well that day,” smart said.
“He has gone to the paddock, and he will have five weeks off and come back for the winter.”
Smart will start to see some of his dry-track specialists back in the coming weeks, and he was eyeing a couple of features early next year in the Tumut Cup on February 12 and the South East Country Championships qualifier at Nowra on February 13.
“Our Volantis – she is a nice 1400 to 1600m horse – she has had a bit of a lay-up and she will be suited to the Tumut Cup and those sorts of races,” Smart said.
“Kelvedon Road is a month or so off from returning, and he is one we are looking forward to having back.
“He is that Country Championship horse. His rating is a bit low, and he needs to win a couple of races pretty quickly, but I think he will.”
Smart, who is easily having his best start to a season, said recent purchases and yearly additions were making all the difference.
“It’s been good. We have been buying two or three horses each year and that is starting to show,” Smart said.
“It has been in progress for a little while, and we will continue to buy those horses, and it takes a while to build the team up, but we are going nicely at the moment.”