Gary Hennessy’s classy New Zealand galloper Ocean Park is gearing up for their first major challenge this Melbourne Spring Racing Carnival, the last start Group 1 winner taking on a field full of spring cup hopefuls in the 2012 Underwood Stakes at Caulfield Racecourse on Saturday.
The Thorn Park stallion enjoyed a brilliant start to their career in New Zealand last summer earning a trip across the Tasman for the Sydney Autumn Racing Carnival.
Their debut run down under was somewhat disappointing when they could only manage to finish eighth to Mosheen in the Randwick Guineas over the mile but they improved leaps and bounds next start when coming within a nose of the Gai Waterhouse-trained Laser Hawk in the Rosehill Guineas over 2000m.
After a lengthy five month break Ocean Park made their four-year-old debut on September 1 at Hastings when carrying 58.5kg to victory in the Group 1 Makfi Challenge Stakes (1400m).
On Saturday they go up to 1800-metres and take on much tougher opposition in the $400,000 Group 1 Underwood Stakes (1800m) where they will look to become the second Kiwi galloper to win the feature in as many years following the success of the ill-fated Lion Tamer 12 months ago.
In a nice form line for Ocean Park, Lion Tamer also went into the Underwood on the back of a resuming run in the Challenge Stakes where they finished fourth to King Mufhasa.
Among their big name Underwood Stakes rivals are the likes of Peter Moody’s triple Group 1 winner Manighar, reigning Caulfield Cup champ Southern Speed, last year’s beaten Caulfield Cup favourite December Draw and recent Memsie Stakes winner Sincero just to name a few.
Five different jockeys have partnered with Ocean Park over their eight start career to date and on Saturday they will reunite with one of those in Glen Boss who was aboard for their close second in the Rosehill Guineas.
“I’m really looking forward to getting on this horse,” Boss said.
“I’ve been anticipating getting back on him for a quite a while now, because he give me a really good feel in the autumn in that one ride that I rode him.
“I just think he’s one of those horses that has got that x-factor about him, a bit of the unknown.
“All reports are that the horse has really come on from the autumn. He’s matured and strengthened up into a really nice type of horse.
“He worked in New Zealand this morning and Gary text me and said the horse is fabulous and he can’t wait to get here.”
Ocean Park is not without their chances however as they gear up for a run in the $3 million Group 1 Cox Plate (2040m) on Saturday October 27 at Moonee Valley Racecourse.
When asked if he thought Ocean Park was a genuine hope of winning the Cox Plate Boss said he wasn’t sure at this stage but that Saturday’s race could provide the answer.
“That’s a really hard question to answer and we won’t know that until after Saturday,” Boss said.
“He gives me the feel that he’s a very, very serious racehorse, but he’s got to get here and show that he’s capable of running against the best ones we’ve got.”
Current Cox Plate betting at bookmaker.com.au has Ocean Park as one of the top fancies paying $12.
The shortest priced of the Underwood entries in the Cox Plate odds meanwhile is Manighar, the $6 second favourite behind Green Moon ($4.60), who resumed with an eye-catching second beaten by the narrowest of margins by Southern Speed.
The 2012 Underwood Stakes final field and barrier draw is due out on Wednesday with the official acceptances and gates to be published right here at Races.com.au.
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