Brissie Buff in McEwen Stakes 2011 Field

Leading Brisbane-based horseman Robert Heathcote is confident his resuming galloper Buffering can be a competitive force in a classy 2011 McEwen Stakes field at Moonee Valley this Saturday.

Atomic Force

Atomic Force (pictured) is one of three Group 1 winners in the 2011 McEwen Stakes field

Wearing blinkers for the first time to help sharpen them up for their new-season debut, Mossman four-year-old Buffering is one of nine final acceptors for the $15,000 Group 3 Mitty’s McEwen Stakes (1000m).

One of the key black-type attractions on a bumper Moonee Valley race programme on Saturday, the McEwen Stakes 2011 will be a tough first-up test for Buffering who was last seen running fourth behind the Peter Snowden-trained Pinwheel in the Group 3 WJ Healy Stakes (1200m) at Eagle Farm on June 25.

A seven-time winner and Group 1 placegetter, Buffering ran in Melbourne twice during last year’s spring carnival recording a second in the Group 2 Danehill Stakes (1200m) and fourth in the Group 1 Coolmore Stud Stakes at Flemington.

They are, however, as yet untested on the tight Moonee Valley circuit and will have to be at their best for Saturday’s sprint showdown after drawing gate eight of nine.

“The McEwen Stakes is a very strong race,” Heathcote admitted earlier this week.

The highest-rated McEwen Stakes entries this year are Happy Zero and Crystal Lily drawn in barriers six and seven respectively.

Former Hong Kong-trained Danzero gelding Happy Zero has their first run in Australia for new connections, John, Wayne and Michael Hawkes after being transferred to their care at the end of last year.

Happy Zero, a Group 1 winner at Sha Tin when under the preparation of expert Hong Kong horseman John Moore, hasn’t raced since June last year at Royal Ascot.

Crystal Lily, on the other hand, is far from a stranger in the Aussie racing majors.

Winner of the Golden Slipper last year, Crystal Lily had a frustrating but consistent prep last season as a three-year-old racing in five Group 1 features for three second place finishes.

The Mathew Ellerton and Simon Zahra-trained Stratum mare was twice placed behind super sprinter Black Caviar, including her second in the Group 1 William Reid Stakes (1200m) at Moonee Valley.

The third Group 1 winner in the McEwen Stakes field this year is Atomic Force.

The Danehill Dancer six-year-old took out the Group 1 The Galaxy (1100m) at Randwick back in April and more recently boosted their record to nine career victories with their impressive performance in the Listed Slickpix Stakes (1100m) at Caulfield on August 27.

“I think the horse looks in great shape, he’s settled in down here in Melbourne, I’m looking forward to Saturday,” Atomic Force’s Newcastle-based trainer Darren Smith said.

Other notable McEwen Stakes contenders include the Mark Kavanagh-trained Shrapnel last seen wining the Group 2 Yallambee Classic (1200m) at Morphettville in mid-March, Clarry Conners’ recent Quezette Stakes winning filly Satin Shoes and the Peter Moody-trained Exceed And Excel mare Kulgrinda drawn in barriers three down to one.

Kulgrinda is sure to have plenty of admirers in the Luxbet markets as she prepares for a supercharged clash with star colt Sepoy in the $500,000 Group 1 Manikato Stakes (1200m) at Moonee Valley on September 30.

The complete McEwen Stakes filed, barriers, jockeys and weights can be found below.

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2011 McEwen Stakes Field & Barrier Draw

# Form (Last 10) Horse Trainer Jockey Barrier Weight Hcp. Rtg.
1 112X31330X HAPPY ZERO Michael, Wayne & John Hawkes Dwayne Dunn 6 58.5kg 114
2 6114122X31 ATOMIC FORCE Darren Smith Damien Oliver 9 58.5kg 109
3 124X13744X BUFFERING Robert Heathcote Damian Browne 8 58.5kg 105
4 0X1634120X FIRST COMMAND Anthony Freedman Nicholas Hall 4 58.5kg 107
5 542113110X ZEDI KNIGHT Brendan McCarthy Danny Nikolic 5 58.5kg 106
6 31X513X01X SHRAPNEL Mark Kavanagh Michael Rodd 3 58.5kg 100
7 X20X52272X CRYSTAL LILY Mathew Ellerton & Simon Zahra Craig Williams 7 56.5kg 112
8 1124X11 KULGRINDA Peter G Moody Luke Nolen 1 56.5kg 99
9 1X1129X18 SATIN SHOES Clarry Conners Ms Lisa Cropp 2 50kg 97