Top hoop Damien Oliver is looking forward to reuniting with last year’s Stradbroke Handicap winner River Lad when the Sunshine Coast-based sprinter returns to racing in the 2015 Victory Stakes on the Gold Coast this weekend.
Oliver hasn’t been aboard Natalie McCall’s Top Echelon seven-year-old since a disappointing 10th to Lucky Hussler in the Group 3 Moonga Stakes (1400m) in Melbourne last Caulfield Cup Day in October/
He will be back aboard the veteran in Queensland’s $200,000 Group 2 Victory Stakes (1200m) on Saturday however after picking up the ride in the AD Hollindale Stakes Day feature.
River Lad is one of 15 Victory Stakes nominations, which will be the horse’s first run since an 11th when failing to make an impact at Flemington last November in the Group 1 Emirates Stakes (1600m) with Tommy Berry in the saddle.
He has won a subsequent barrier trial at home over 850m in late May, with Michael Hughes aboard, and is out to add to his smart first-up record on the weekend.
To date River Lad has had eight resuming runs for four wins, and is also a winner of his only previous start over the 1200m on the Gold Coast back in March of 2013.
Last Brisbane Winter Racing Carnival the Victory Stakes ran at Eagle Farm and River Lad could only manage to run seventh when defeating just one of his rivals in the Temple Of Boom-won clash.
He quickly atoned however when one run later he took out the Group 3 BRC Sprint (1350m) before turning the tables on the Tony Gollan-trained Victory Stakes winner Temple Of Boom when the duo ran the quinella in Queensland’s richest race – the $2 million Group 1 Stradbroke Handicap (1400m), Oliver scoring his first Stradbroke win.
This year the 2015 Stradbroke Handicap runs at Doomben Racecourse, not Eagle Farm, over 1350m and is again on the agenda for both River Lad as well as Temple Of Boom who will defend his Victory Stakes title this weekend.
42-year-old Oliver has to date enjoyed 105 Group 1 wins, a tally he hopes to add to over the winter in Brisbane while still also shooting for his 10th Victorian Jockeys’ Premiership title in Melbourne, a race he currently trails Craig Williams (41) and Dwayne Dunn (40) in with his 39 Victorian city wins for the season.
“I’d love to notch a 10th Melbourne premiership but I also have to chase the big events,” Oliver explained to the Herald Sun on Monday.
“I’m sure Craig and Dwayne are in the same boat.
“I won the title last year, along with the Scobie Breasley Medal, when I missed three months of the season because of suspension and overseas and interstate assignments, so it can be done.
“However there is plenty of competition this season. Craig is not going to Japan and Dwayne is more likely to be available more in Melbourne than head interstate. It will be a tough challenge.”
After the Victory Stakes and leading into the Stradbroke, River Lad is down to also run in the $500,000 Group 1 BTC Cup (1200m) on May 9, an elite level ride Oliver will also be considering.
He hopes to atone for some recent close calls during the Sydney Autumn Racing Carnival in the Group 1s, including last Saturday when aboard runner-up Wandjina and just defeated by the Jim Cassidy-ridden Dissident in the Group 1 All Aged Stakes (1400m) at Randwick.
“I just couldn’t snare one in Sydney, although I finished in the placings a lot,” Oliver said.
“You go where the good horses are in the good races, and that’s the carnivals, and then come home in between.
“Like almost every year, I’m away from March to June in Sydney, Adelaide and Brisbane.
“The prizemoney is good and it is hard not to go where there are Group 1 races on offer.”
The other Group race ride for the seven-time Breasley Medal winner on the Gold Coast race card this Saturday is on Arabian Gold in the $358,000 Group 2 Hollindale Stakes (1800m).
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