Last year’s Victoria Derby winner Lion Tamer has returned as “good as gold” according to his Cambridge-based trainer Murray Baker, the Kiwi galloper looking likely to race first-up in Melbourne ahead of their 2011 Cox Plate and Spring Cups campaign.
Storming Home four-year-old Lion Tamer hasn’t been seen for nearly 40 weeks, their last appearance being a devastating six and a half length victory in the 2010 AAMI Victoria Derby at Flemington.
Baker is keen to target more Melbourne Spring Racing Carnival glory this year and is leaning towards $200,000 Group 2 Memsie Stakes (1400m) at Caulfield on August 27 as the resuming run for the very promising horse.
Lion Tamer is also a possibility to race first-up in the opening Group 1 race of the season in New Zealand, the Mudgway Stakes (1400m) at Hastings, but with the likes of Jimmy Choux, Wall Street and Scarlett Lady all scheduled to kick off their campaigns in the race, the Memsie is shaping up as an easier and more attractive option.
“He’ll either go to Hastings for a 1400 metre weight-for-age on 27 August (Mudgway Stakes) or the same day he’ll go to the Memsie at Caulfield,” Baker said.
“We’ll probably be leaning towards Melbourne.
“It doesn’t matter whatever the weather because the horse can go on a firm track and has a good record on a firm track.”
Although the Memsie looks a very winnable race, Baker warned that Lion Tamer would not be at his best first-up and that having been sidlined for such a time, he would need the run.
“I’d say that being so long off the scene he’d need a race at that level,” he said.
“But who knows, you’ve got to be in to win.”
On Tuesday Lion Tamer ran in their first trial since winning the Derby, the horse easily accounting for their nine rivals in the country New Zealand heat run over a much shorter distance than the stayer is suited to.
“He had a trial on Tuesday, a 10-horse open trial,” Baker confirmed.
“He won the trial, the second horse was a Group 2 winner and the third horse was (stablemate) Harris Tweed, so there were some handy horses.
“It was the first time that he’s been out since Flemington.”
Baker said he wasn’t surprised by the win, despite the distance and the fact Lion Tamer had been out for so long.
“He’s got that bit of class and he did win three two-year-old races…one over 1200 metres and 1100 metres so he’s not short of speed,” he said.
The long spell for Lion Tamer was not an intentional one, Baker forced to shelve plans to return to Australia for the Sydney Autumn Carnival this year after the horse injured his leg back home.
“He cut his hock last year just at the back and it was one of those places you couldn’t stitch,” Baker explained.
“He wasn’t lame or anything…just had to wait for it to heal, just one of those one in 100 chance things.
“We couldn’t get him ready for the autumn so we decided to give him a good spell and he’s back now.
“Certainly would have like to take him to Sydney in the autumn but it didn’t eventuate.
“Time heals most things and he seems to have come back as good as gold.”
Baker said he was considering another trial for Lion Tamer before kicking off their official preparation, but that the weather in New Zealand and subsequent cancelation of many heat meetings was making it tough.
“We’ll think about another trial,” he said.
“We’ve had a lot of cancellations of trials and that’s half the problem.
“You never know, the clubs these days are calling them off because they don’t want to damage their tracks.”
Leading up to Lion Tamer’s breakthrough Group 1 win as a three-year-old in the Victoria Derby last year, they had four earlier runs in Australia.
Starting off in Sydney they won the Listed Ming Dynasty Handicap (1400m) on a Heavy track at Randwick before firmer track conditions saw them run a disappointing seventh in the Group 3 Gloaming Stakes (1800m) and then fifth in the Group 1 Spring Champion Stakes (2000m).
At their first run in Melbourne and final run before the Derby, Lion Tamer showed good improvement when second behind Rekindled Interest in the Group 2 AAMI Vase (2040m) at Moonee Valley.
That has been their sole start at the Moonee Valley track to date, but Baker plans on changing that this year with the 2011 Cox Plate firmly on Lion Tamer’s spring agenda down under.
“Definitely (the Cox Plate), he’s only had one start at Moonee Valley when he ran second,” Baker said.
Lion Tamer was one of 189 Cox Plate 2011 nominations earlier this week, the $3 million weight-for-age feature to run at Moonee Valley on October 22.
In the current Cox Plate odds Lion Tamer is rated a $51 chance, full markets can be found at Luxbet.
As well as the lucrative Cox Plate, Baker also intended to run Lion Tamer in both the $2.5 million Group 1 Caulfield Cup (2400m) on October 15 as well as Racing Victoria’s spring showpiece, the 2011 Melbourne Cup at Flemington on Tuesday, November 1.
Caulfield Cup nominations were released earlier this week, Lion Tamer one of the 236 gallopers entered for the event, Baker also planning to nominate the horse for the $6 million Melbourne Cup when entries close on September 1.
As for how Lion Tamer will get to the Melbourne Cup, Baker said he was yet to confirm a solid spring programme.
“We haven’t really worked it out, we’ll just be building up to the longer distances at weight-for-age,” he said.
Baker will also bring over last year’s Caulfield Cup runner-up Harris Tweed for the Caulfield – Melbourne Cup double this year.
Melbourne Cup 2011 betting markets have Lion Tamer at $31 to win while Harris Tweed is an $81 roughie despite having finished a credible fifth behind Melbourne Cup winner Americain last year.
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