The sole Victorian in this year’s Champagne Stakes on Sydney Cup Day at Randwick is the Danny O’Brien-trained Running Tall, the colt out to improve on his failure in the Golden Slipper and give connections a Group 1 victory on Saturday.
A son of Stratum, two-year-old Running Tall faces a quality field of 11 rivals in the $400,000 Group 1 Champagne Stakes (1600m) as he seeks his second career win.
After running third to Arctic Command in the Group 3 Maribyrnong Plate (1000m) on debut at their home track at Flemington on Emirates Stakes Day last spring, Running Tall was brought back in February when second to Peter Snowden’s star colt Sepoy in the Group 3 Blue Diamond Prelude (1100m).
Next start Running Tall was again beaten by Sepoy, this time by six lengths when a disappointing seventh in the Group 1 Blue Diamond Stakes (1200m) at Caulfield.
Running Tall eventually broke his maiden status winning the Group 2 VRC Sires Produce Stakes (1400m) at Flemington on March 12, thrashing his rivals by an easy two lengths and earning a start in the prestigious Golden Slipper.
Held on April 2 at Rosehill, the Golden Slipper was won by Sepoy and Running Tall only managed to finish 11th in the 14-horse field.
“He just found coming back from the 1400 of the (VRC) Sires against him,” O’Brien explained.
“He was looking for 1400 in the Slipper and it all happened too quick for him.
“In hindsight we probably should have just waited and gone to the (AJC) Sires and then the Champagne, but the Slipper was very tempting.”
On Saturday Running Tall will look to turn the tables on Sepoy’s connections as he battles for Champagne glory against the Snowden-trained duo of Disputes and top fancy Helmet coming off a win in the AJC Sires Produce Stakes.
Drawn in barrier 11 of 12 and due to be ridden by champion hoop Glen Boss, Running Tall has to produce a career-best run to take the Group 1 trophy back home to Melbourne.
If Running Tall does rise to the occasion and wins Saturday’s showdown, he will become the first horses since the mighty Vain in 1969 to complete the VRC Sires Produce Stakes – Champagne Stakes double.
While it is an intimidating mission, O’Brien is convinced Running Tall can overcome the odds and reproduce his VRC Sires Produce Stakes form.
“It hasn’t been done for a while (the VRC Sires Produce – Champagne Stakes double), but hopefully it can be done again this weekend,” O’Brien said.
“He’s really thrived since he’s been up there (in Sydney), so he’s still in great shape and I think he’ll really appreciate the 1600.”
The Champagne Stakes will be Running Tall’s first look at the mile and based on his breeding and recent runs, the step up in distance should prove an advantage according to O’Brien.
“He’s had three weeks between runs and now up to the mile, I think there are enough positives for him Saturday,” he said.
While Sepoy is out in the paddock, the early favourites in the Champagne Stakes markets are the top three finishers in the AJC Sires Produce Stakes: Helmet, Uate and Pane In The Glass.
“Most of the Sires horses are in it, but no Sepoy which is nice,” O’Brien said.
“This will be the first Group 1 he’ll (Running Tall) have run in without Sepoy in it.”
The Champagne Stakes is one of four Group 1’s highlighting a huge day of racing at Randwick on Saturday that brings the Sydney Autumn Carnival to a close.