Jason Clifford’s in-form four-year-old Rocky Times could firm into favouritism for this Saturday’s Winter Championship Series Final at Flemington by race time with doubts emerging over whether current top elect Mr Make Believe will get a run.
The Peter Moody-trained Commands gelding Mr Make Believe is the $3.50 favourite to win the $200,000 Listed Winter Championship Series Final (1600m) on the weekend, despite not being one of the race’s certain starters.
Mr Make Believe is an ultra consistent galloper boasting seven wins and two minor placings from their 11 career starts, including three successive wins this prep.
Despite their commanding form, Mr Make Believe is only the third emergency for the Winter Championship grand final as didn’t take part in any of the qualifying heats during the series and now relies on a hat-trick of early scratchings to make the field.
Even if they do sneak into the line-up, Moody’s racing manager Jeff O’Connor has warned they may make the decision not to run him.
“It’s not a given yet that he will take his place,” O’Connor said.
“We have never backed him up before and he still hasn’t convinced us he should be running.”
Mr Make Believe raced only last Saturday, posting an impressive one and three quarter length win over the Mick Kent-trained Philda, 59kg topweight for the Winter Championship Final, after leading all the way in the Dominant Don Abell Cup (1514m) at Moonee Valley.
“It would have been great to have another week up our sleeves with him because when you get those good horses off the bit chasing like he did last Saturday, you’re going to pay the penalty in the week after the race,” O’Connor said.
The first two emergencies that get precedence when it comes to spots in the Winter Championship field are Philda’s stablemate the fellow Kent-trained Good Value and Robert Smerdon’s Light Vision.
Good Value is already likely to step up with Ransom Willy a likely withdrawal in favour of running at Randwick.
One horse that is guaranteed a start is Rocky Times, the Ladoni gelding currently the $6.50 second favourite behind Mr Make Believe for the Flemington feature.
Last month Rocky Times stepped up to stakes’ company for the first time finishing a gallant third beaten just a length by Dubleanny and Perturbo in the Listed Henry Bucks Straight Six (1200m) at Flemington.
They backed this up with a narrow win in the Winter Championship Heat (1400m) at Bendigo on June 2 before their last-start effort when third to Dr Nipandtuck in the Winter Series Handicap (1420m) at Flemington on June 25.
“He should have easily run second last time,” Clifford said of the former Tasmanian-trained Rocky Times.
“He ran the fastest 200 metres of the race and that’s pretty good when you are stopped completely in your tracks at the 300 metres.”
Drawn in barrier nine for the series culmination on Saturday, Rocky Times is due to be ridden by champion hoop Luke Nolen for the first time and trainer Clifford is confident of their chances.
“He normally just does what he has got to do in trackwork but on Tuesday I thought he actually worked better than he ever has,” Clifford said.