Mornington trainer Wez Hunter is keen to head to Brisbane this winter for a shot at the Stradbroke Handicap 2014 with his surprising sprinter Smokin’ Joey who upset a big field of better fancied rivals for their shock win in the $500,000 Group 1 The Goodwood (1200m) in Adelaide over the weekend.
Not having won a race since November last year during the Melbourne Cup Carnival at Flemington as a 40-1 shot, the six-year-old Encosta De Lago gelding went out at the same price at Morphettville on Saturday in The Goodwood.
Ridden by the returning Ben Melham who won the race 12 months ago aboard smart mare Platelet for his third Group 1 win in South Australia last season, Smokin’ Joey saluted as a roughie in a boilover.
They went up the outside and had plenty of galloping room there in the classic, able to get around the field and beat home the defending The Goodwood winner Platelet by a half length with another roughie Riziz ($26) just under a length further back again for third.
While the punters and bookies were astonished by the victory, Hunter always had a little more confidence Smokin’ Joey could come through for him.
Now it could be back up to Group 1 company this time in Queensland for the state’s richest race, the $1.36 million Group 1 Stradbroke Handicap (1400m) at Eagle Farm Racecourse on June 7 despite Smokin’ Joey not being nominated for the classic.
There are currently 100 official Stradbroke Handicap 2014 nominations.
Connections however have until May 28 to make a second late nomination for their horse in the race at a cost of $23,100, a cutoff date Hunter has penciled in.
“I spoke to the owner today. He said, ‘The race is worth $1 million-plus. Let’s go’,” Hunter told The Herald Sun today.
The Goodwood was Smokin’ Joey’s 11th Group 1 assignment making the former Lee & Anthony Freedman-trained galloper far from a rookie at elite level.
Their other most notable Group 1 performance was a second behind the Chris Waller-trained Boban in the Emirates Stakes over the mile last spring.
They also boast plenty of Brisbane race experience too having made a number of previous winter carnival appearances going right back to 2010 where they had their second, third and fourth career starts there.
Last year they targeted the Group 2 QTC Cup (1300m) when prepared by Mick Price but had no luck finishing second last behind Galah.
Hunter, who has been training them since a stable chance last November, believes he’s unlocked better form and rates them a genuine Stradbroke chance to score another upset as Linton did at 41-1 last year.
“You’d reckon the Stradbroke would be his sort of race,” he said.
Bookies are yet to add Smokin’ Joey as a possible in their future Stradbroke Handicap betting markets.
Current odds are led by Sydney visitor Rebel Dane who will have their first run of the carnival in Saturday week’s $650,000 Group 1 Doomben 10,000 (1350m).
Locals Buffering and Spirit Of Boom are then next best in betting, the duo having run third and second respectively behind last weekend’s other Group 1 upset winner Famous Seamus in the BTC Cup.
If not the Stradbroke, Hunter confirmed Smokin’ Joey would be sent to the paddock before a spring return.
But after licking in bin clean post-Goodwood, it was looking good for them to freshen up at the Mornington Peninsula where Hunter is renting stables at Pinecliffe, before heading to Brisbane.
“The beauty of this place is it has its own tracks, its own beach. If he can’t freshen up nicely here, he won’t freshen up anywhere,” Hunter said.
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