The Tony McEvoy-trained race favourite Shiraz saluted for the punters at Flemington Racecourse in Melbourne on Saturday taking out the opening Group race of the spring with a narrow victory in the Aurie’s Star Handicap 2015.
Ridden by Hall of Fame jockey Damien Oliver, the six-year-old Zariz gelding made it three straight wins when beating home a quality field in this year’s $150,000 Group 3 Aurie’s Star Handicap (1200m) down the famous straight.
Following back-to-back victories in the mud at Rosehill in Sydney, it was a brave effort from the top class sprinter who was having his maiden run in Victoria and his first start in stakes’ company.
On the line Shiraz ($3.30) only had a nose to spare over the Peter Smith-trained Play Master ($9.50) who came off a win at the track and distance in the Listed All Victorian Sprint Series Final from July 11.
Finishing off the winning Aurie’s Star Handicap trifecta in third, still beaten only three quarters of a length by Shiraz, was the Mick Price-trained Le Bonsir ($10) who improved on a last start 12th over the 1200m at Sandown-Hillside from early June.
The Aurie’s Star Handicap result also provided winning hoop Oliver with back-to-back wins in the early spring feature following his success aboard fellow New South Wales raider Tiger Tees 12 months earlier.
“It’s another good start to the season,” Oliver, who has ridden 105 Group 1 winners to date and has taken out 10 Victorian Metropolitan Jockeys’ Premiership titles, told Racing Victoria post-win.
“I suppose riding light through the winter has held me in good stead.
“I’ve been able to get a lot more rides because I’ve been riding light and if you’re not riding light through winter it’s hard to get the opportunities.
“But my weight’s manageable and that’s really helped me get more opportunities, like this one.”
Shiraz was well weighted carrying 54.5kg to settle just off the speed before moving up to challenge the front runners over the final 300m.
He looked in danger when Play Master stormed through the pack 100m from the line, but Shiraz had just enough late strength to hold him off and win the Group 3 to take his record to nine wins from 14 starts for over $370,000 in prize money.
“I thought the second horse had me cold inside the 100, but I got stuck into him (and) he was really brave late and managed just to put his nose down on the line,” Oliver said.
Shiraz will next race in the $150,000 Group 3 Bobbie Lewis Quality (1200m) back at Flemington on Makybe Diva Stakes Day, September 12, in a rematch with Masterprint seven-year-old Play Master.
The Group 1 winner in the Aurie’s Star Handicap field and hefty 60kg top weight, the Darren Weir-trained Trust In A Gust could only manage to run five and a quarter lengths away seventh.
Weir will keep a close eye on how the Keep The Faith five-year-old pulls through the run before deciding on whether or not to press onto the $400,000 Group 1 Memsie Stakes (1400m) at Caulfield on August 29.
“Down the straight and 60 kilos, we were never hiding from that fact before the race and we were against a good group of horses, but you don’t know until you try it,” Trust In A Gust’s jockey Brad Rawiller said after the loss.
“There was no reason why he didn’t deserve a go down the straight and it didn’t happen for him today.”
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2015 Aurie’s Star Handicap Result & Finishing Order
Flemington Race 7 – 08/08/2015
|1||3||SHIRAZ||Tony McEvoy||Damien Oliver||–||1||54kg (cd 54.5kg)||$3.30F|
|2||6||PLAY MASTER||Peter Smith||Craig Newitt||0.1L||4||54kg||$9.50|
|3||2||LE BONSIR||Mick Price||Dwayne Dunn||0.85L||8||54kg||$10|
|4||5||PAGO ROCK||David Hayes & Tom Dabernig||Keith Yeung||1.05L||3||54kg||$19|
|5||7||LONROCKSTAR||John Sadler||Glen Boss||3.8L||7||54kg||$9|
|6||11||ZEBRINZ||Leon & Troy Corstens||Chris Parnham||4.1L||5||54kg||$9|
|7||1||TRUST IN A GUST||Darren Weir||Brad Rawiller||5.35L||10||60kg||$4.60|
|8||4||DECIRCLES||Danny O’Brien||Damian Lane||5.85L||2||54kg||$16|
|9||8||NADEEM LASS||Robbie Griffiths||Luke Currie||6.6L||6||54kg||$26|
|10||9||SMACKDOWN (NZ)||Trent Pennuto||Jordan Mallyon||8.6L||11||54kg||$26|
|11||10||LIVING ON A PRAYER||Mick Cerchi||Dean Holland||8.7L||9||54kg||$101|
|–||12||AUDINO||Robbie Laing||Patrick Moloney (a)||–||0||–||–|