Runner-up in the Caulfield Cup last Melbourne Spring Racing Carnival, the Murray Baker-trained New Zealand stayer Harris Tweed has surprised connections with a solid barrier trial back home ahead of their 2011 Melbourne Cup crusade.
Six-year-old Montjeu gelding Harris Tweed ran just two lengths away third behind stablemate and fellow Melbourne-bound Lion Tamer in a 1200 metre, 10-horse open trial on Tuesday at Whakatane’s Te Teko track, an effort that Baker was pleased and amazed with.
“He rather surprised us all to get third because he’s never shown up in trials in his life,” Baker said.
“He pulled up very well.”
Harris Tweed has only recently returned to work at Baker’s Cambridge base after undergoing a wind operation to improve his breathing.
“He had a wind operation in the autumn, the same as (dual Cox Plate winner) So You Think did,” Baker explained.
“He seems to have come back good as gold.”
Not to be mistaken with their European counterpart by the same name, Harris Tweed was one of the 236 horses among the 2011 Caulfield Cup nominations this year with Baker also to nominate them for the Melbourne Cup 2011 when entries for Australia’s richest race close on September 1.
The horse is no stranger to the Australian racing scene, or elite level company.
In fact, Harris Tweed has run 12 of his 27 career starts to date on Australian turf.
Their debut campaign down under was in the autumn of 2009, where they won the Group 2 Myer Tulloch Stakes (2000m) at Rosehill in their first ever run outside of New Zealand before finishing a close second to Roman Emperor in the 2009 AJ Australian Derby.
They returned in the spring of that year for their first Caulfield Cup – Melbourne Cup campaign, finishing 10th (to Viewed) and fifth (to Shocking) respectively in the iconic Spring Cups.
Last year Harris Tweed was over for both the Sydney Autumn Carnival and the Melbourne Spring Carnival, achievements on our tracks including a game third to Jessicabeel in the Group 1 Sydney Cup (3200m), a win in the Listed Bart Cummings Quality (2500m) at Flemington in early October and coming within one length when second to last year’s Caulfield Cup winner Descarado on a Heavy Caulfield track.
Harris Tweed’s spring campaign culminated with a brave fifth, beaten just over five lengths by Americain in the 150th Melbourne Cup.
Before undergoing their throat operation, Harris Tweed had one run in February back home at Otaki but they failed to beat home any other runners when last to the James McDonald-ridden mare Keep The Peace in the Group 1 Hanunui Farm Classic (1600m).
Their performance in the trials on Tuesday, however, showed Baker that the operation had been a success and that glory in either the $2.5 million Group 1 Caulfield Cup (2400m) on October 15 or even possibly the $6 million Melbourne Cup (3200m) at Flemington on November 1 was more than just a pipe dream.
“He’s not making any noise in his work, so I am hopeful he will have a good campaign,” Baker said.
Baker confirmed that Harris Tweed would travel to Melbourne along with 2011 Cox Plate and fellow Spring Cups hopeful Lion Tamer, winner of the 2010 Victoria Derby.
Lion Tamer is a likely first-up starter in the $200,000 Group 2 Memsie Stakes (1400m) at Caulfield Racecourse on August 27, and Baker said there was a nice race on the same day there for Harris Tweed to resume in as well.
That race is the $100,000 Listed Heatherlie Handicap (1700m), which was last year’ registered as the D’Urban Quality Stakes and won by Moudre.
Harris Tweed is currently rated an $81 roughie in the futures Melbourne Cup betting markets lead by defending champion Americain, last year’s runner-up Maluckyday and Australian Guineas – AJC Derby winner Shamrocker who are all installed as equal $13 favourites.
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