Leading two-year-olds’ trainer of the season, Peter Snowden further improved his claims at securing a whitewash in the juvenile features after his Ad Valorem colt Free Wheeling ran the ideal TJ Smith trial with a win at Doomben on the weekend.
Snowden and the Darley Racing operation have enjoyed a stranglehold over the elite level races for two-year-olds this year.
During the autumn Snowden took out the Blue Diamond and Golden Slipper Stakes with superstar colt Sepoy before their equally impressive stablemate Helmet also claimed a Group 1 double with victories in the AJC Inglis Sires Produce Stakes and Champagne Stakes.
“It’s been a great run,” Snowden said of his success in the two-year-old Group 1 races this year.
“At the start of the season I thought we had some pretty smart horses, but the last six months they have really exceeded what I thought they could do.
“We had Sepoy and Helmet which I thought were by far our best ones, but there’s another eight or 10 knocking on the door.”
Now Snowden has two progressive two-year-olds ready to hand him a fifth in the $500,000 Group 1 The TJ Smith (1600m) at Eagle Farm on Stradbroke Handicap Day, June 11.
On May 14, Lonhro colt Benfica easily outclassed his rivals in their Queensland debut, scoring an emphatic three and a half length victory in the Listed Hampden Stakes (1200m) at Doomben, a victory that saw them sore into nominal TJ Smith favouritism.
Now likely to join if not surpass Benfica at the top of the TJ Smith odds when they are released is Free Wheeling after their tight but striking win in the Group 2 Champagne Classic (1200m) on Doomben Cup Day last Saturday.
Beating a crack field Free Wheeling ($8.50) was a neck ahead of the Bevan Laming-trained Dr Ichi ($21) on the line while race favourite Hot Snitzel ($1.45), who had been backed as if unbeatable by punters on the day, was a mere nose further away in a thrilling blanket finish.
Free Wheeling has now had four starts, Saturday being their maiden win, for $136,300 in prize money.
“The talent is there and he will certainly take a lot out of that,” Snowden said of Free Wheeling’s win.
“He had a tendency to over-race early in his preparation and was going too hard, but he’s starting to relax now.
“I am sure when he gets to 1400m he will be even better and even a mile after that.”
Jockey Hugh Bowman partnered with Free Wheeling for the first time on Saturday and agreed with Snowden’s assessment of the youngster’s ability.
“I wouldn’t say I was confident all the way but when the horse relaxed for me I did have a nice passage and when I got out I thought I was going to gobble them up quick and he did do that,” Bowman said.
“He got a bit lost going to the line, so he’s got a bit of growing up to do, but he’s certainly got the ability.”
Before stepping up to elite level for the TJ Smith, Free Wheeling will first run in the traditional lead-up race at the carnival, the Group 2 Sires Produce Stakes (1400m) at Eagle Farm on June 4 to try and cement their claims.
Of his dynamic two-year-old duo, Snowden found it hard to separate Benfica and Free Wheeling and the bookies may as well.
“I don’t think there’s much between them” Snowden said.
“One races up on the speed and the other gets back so hopefully we have two live chances.”
Further boosting Snowden’s Brisbane Winter Carnival aspirations on Saturday was the smart win by his Commands mare Kanzan in the $150,000 Group 3 Glenlogan Park Stakes (1350m).
Four-year-old Kanzan backed up from a good victory in the Listed The Darley Crown (1300m) at Hawkesbury on April 30 by finishing nearly half a length clear of Zero Rock on Saturday while Peter Moody’s Returntosender was a further length back for third.
Paul Messara’s $4.40 race favourite Alverta started strongly but eventually weakened and could only manage to cross for fifth in the fillies and mares feature.
“She does tremendously well at home,” Snowden said of Kanzan.
“Since we’ve come up (to Queensland) she has just started to lighten off a bit because she is not getting that paddock environment.
“I just have to spoon-feed her and try and keep her where she is at the moment and hopefully she can go to the Dane Ripper in the same condition.”
Snowden has named the $500,000 Group 1 Winter Stakes (1400m) at Eagle Farm on June 25 as the main season aim for Kanzan.
A Winter Stakes run for Kanzan will depend on how she comes through her next start in the Group 2 Dane Ripper Quality (1400m) on June 4.
Meanwhile runner-up Zero Rock impressed trainer Kelso Wood with their fast-finishing effort.
“I’m rapt. What a great run,” Wood said.
“I’d love to get her into the Stradbroke but she’s 32nd in order of entry.”
The $1 million Group 1 Stradbroke Handicap (1400m) runs on June 11, Zero Rock needing to win a race offering a ballot exemption to make the field for the lucrative spring showdown.
This predicament, faced by many of the hopefuls, sees Zero Rock sit as a $26 outsider in the latest Stradbroke odds.