Mornington-based trainer Wez Hunter said he wouldn’t be surprised if his seven-year-old galloper Smokin’ Joey scores an upset in his opening autumn run at Moonee Valley in the 2015 Australia Stakes this weekend.
Upset winner of the Group 1 The Goodwood (1200m) as a 40-1 shot in Adelaide last May, Encosta De Lago gelding Smokin’ Joey was last seen running fourth in two Group 1 Perth races at the end of 2014.
He was only a length off the ill-fated Elite Belle in the Group 1 Railway Stakes (1600m) and then fourth again this time behind Chris Waller’s Sydney raider Moriarty in the Group 1 Kingston Town Classic (1800m).
Railway Stakes winning mare Elite Belle was set to join Hunter in Victoria but in a tragic turn of events she suffered a heart-attack only 15 minutes into her flight across the country and passed away.
“They had to turn the flight around and the next flight was three days later,” Hunter told the Herald Sun.
“The bloke on the plane (head of cargo) said he’d been in the job 20 years and nothing like it had ever happened.
“The horse I was getting, a Group 1 winner with $1.4 million in the bank, had to be the first.”
While saddened by the loss of the top million dollar earner, Hunter is focused on the team of autumn hopes he does have in work including Smokin’ Joey who resumes on Saturday at Moonee Valley in the $200,000 Group 2 Jeep Australia Stakes (1200m).
Smokin’ Joey will be partnered by apprentice Perth-based hoop Chris Parnham, replacing Ben Melham in the saddle who will be aboard rival Dissident in the Australia Stakes, with the two to jump from barrier two in the small nine-horse field.
Parnham is on loan to Hunter for 12 weeks and could stay with him in Melbourne for longer if it is a successful trainer – jockey partnership during those three months.
In Australia Stakes betting at Ladbrokes.com.au the resuming Peter Moody-trained Dissident is the clear $2 favourite.
Smokin’ Joey meanwhile can be found further down the markets at a generous $16, the horse having his third start at Moonee Valley.
He hasn’t raced at the track since a first-up second back in December of 2011 when prepared by Anthony Freedman.
Also upset over the loss of Elite Belle, Parnham is looking forward to riding Smokin’ Joey who he kept a bit of an eye on during the galloper’s Perth stint.
“It’s a real shame about her (Elite Belle),” he said.
“I rode her a few years ago when I had a three claim. She was a top class mare and worth a lot of money as a broodmare. It’s bad luck for everybody.
“I obviously saw a fair bit of him (Smokin’ Joey) the times he was in Perth but I’ve also watched a lot of his Victorian races.
“He’s a great old horse but he needs to be ridden a specific way. He hated having other horses on his outside.”
Hunter believes the 1200m will suit Smokin’ Joey first-up and that the horse had been kept in good condition over his short break with residual fitness on his side for Saturday.
“He’s got residual fitness and is back in distance. He’s fit but he’s got fresh legs. One of my old bosses, Tony Noonan, said that’s the best “combo’’ with a horse,” he said.
“I wouldn’t be shocked if he sprinted over the top of them.”
Smokin’ Joey will head towards his major Melbourne Autumn Racing Carnival aims of the Australian Guineas and Australian Cup via the $220,000 Group 2 Blamey Stakes (1600m) at Flemington on March 14.
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