Racing like a horse half his age, the Richie Stephenson-trained Azzaland scored an impressive victory at Doomben on the weekend, the rising seven-year-old breaking his 1200m maiden status in time for the Brisbane Winter Racing Carnival riches.
Consistent Za-Im gelding Azzaland now boasts an ultra impressive record of 12 wins and four minor placings from 19 starts but until yesterday had failed to win over a distance greater than 1030m.
Toowoomba-based trainer Richie Stephenson had tried Azzaland over 1200m twice in 2008, the galloper unable to finish better than sixth.
At Doomben on Saturday, however, Azzaland showed no signs of struggling with the distance increase.
Carrying a hefty 58kg with jockey Shane Scriven aboard, Azzaland ($4.40) stormed home in the $80,000 Listed B.R.C. Bribie Handicap chasing down the leader to finish one and a quarter lengths ahead of Faster Son ($4.80) while Casholet was a mere nose further back for third.
“I think everyone, including myself, had a few reservations at 1200m,” Stephenson said.
“But he’s older and stronger now and that was a great win under a big weight.”
Scriven, who also enjoyed success aboard Femina Fashion in a 2040m open handicap event at Doomben on Saturday, was confident there was more to come from Azzaland.
“I wouldn’t rule out him running 1350m on the way he felt,” Scriven said.
Azzaland is now being prepared for Group glory during the Brisbane Winter Carnival.
“He’ll win a good race someday and hopefully it will be one of those good ones during the Brisbane Winter Carnival,” Stephenson said.
The prestigious Group 1 BTC Cup (1200m) on paper looks the ideal target for Azzaland but Stephenson is not going to try his sprinter against the fastest horse on the planet Black Caviar.
“Now that he’s shown me he can run 1200m metres I’ll aim for some of those better races in the winter but I’ll stay clear of Peter Moody’s good one (Black Caviar).”
Undefeated in 12, superstar mare Black Caviar is heading towards an unprecedented 13th consecutive victory and sixth Group 1 success in the BTC Cup on May 14.
One horse that was originally intending to come face-to-face with the queen in the BTC Cup was the Robert Heathcote-trained Woorim.
Show A Heart five-year-old Woorim resumed racing in the BRC Bribie Handicap on Saturday after a six month spell starting the $3.80 favourite of the field.
Woorim started from an awkward barrier nine draw and was equal 58kg topweight with eventual winner Azzaland and so was not disgraced finishing two and a quarter lengths back for fourth.
Heathcote last week stated he would not shy away from a showdown with Black Caviar in the BTC Cup with Woorim if the gelding returned to the track in satisfactory fashion.
Group 1 place having run third to Response in the Sir Rupert Clarke Stakes (1400m) at Caulfield last September, Woorim should have shown Heathcote enough form on Saturday to warrant a BTC Cup start.
Prior to Woorim’s fourth place run in the Bribie Handicap Heathcote expressed his enthusiasm about the upcoming carnival.
“He may take on Black caviar if she comes for the BTC Cup,” Heathcote said.
“We’re all allowed to dream – they’re free.”
In other Queensland Winter Carnival racing news, Femina Fashion is likely to have her next start in the $300,000 Group 2 Hollindale Stakes (1800m) at the Gold Coast on May 7 after her Doomben win.
Trevor Whittington’s quality Shamardal mare Femina Fashion produced a strong finish to hold off a late charge from Shuffle The Cash to score a one length win in the LED Superscreens Handicap (2040m) on Saturday.
“I wanted to see her put in a big effort today,” Whittington said after Femina Fashion’s win.
“Now I am definitely looking at the Hollindale Cup at the Gold Coast in a fortnight.
“There’s not much around for her in the winter without going to weight-for-age.
“She’s a specialist over 1800 metres and hasn’t been beaten over it so we’ll probably head to the Hollindale Stakes and then the Doomben Cup provided she pulls up well.”
The $500,000 Group 1 Doomben Cup (2020m) will run on Saturday May 21.