Three time Makybe Diva Stakes winning hoop Damien Oliver has turned down the ride in this year’s edition of the Flemington weight-for-age feature aboard Cox Plate-bound Alpine Eagle.
Oliver has ridden three past Makybe Diva Stakes winners with success in the Melbourne Spring Racing Carnival classic on Marble Halls (1997), Sky Heights (1999) and most recently the Danny O’Brien-trained Vigor (2009).
The ace jockey had first refusal in this year’s $400,000 Group 1 Makybe Diva Stakes (1600m) running on September 12 as the next elite level of the season, but has opted instead to partner Fawkner first-up.
Winner of the 2013 Caulfield Cup and last year’s Caulfield Stakes, Robert Hickmott’s Reset eight-year-old Fawkner was originally accepted to return to racing last Saturday in the $400,000 Group 1 Memsie Stakes (1400m) subsequently won by the Chris Waller-trained Boban.
He drew an awkwardly wide gate however and so was scratched from the race, which was to have been his first run since a 10th to German raider Protectionist in the $6.2 million Group 1 Emirates Melbourne Cup (3200m) over the two miles last November.
A restructured spring campaign for the veteran who has won over $3.43 million in prize money for his owner Lloyd Williams sees Fawkner kick off in the Makybe Diva Stakes Saturday week, a race he ran a first-up second to Dissident in 12 months ago.
Alpine Eagle meanwhile kicked off his four-year-old season on August 22 in Adelaide’s Listed Penny Edition Stakes (1400m) at Morphettville Parks running second to veteran local Riziz as the beaten odds-on favourite.
Matthew Neilson had the first-up ride, but will be replaced when Alpine Eagle goes up to elite level company next time out.
A winner of four of his seven starts, the up-and-coming High Chaparral stallion is yet to finish out of the money also boasting two seconds and a third.
His latest win was at Caulfield in late February’s Group 2 Autumn Classic (1800m) where Oliver rode him to victory before Douglas Whyte jumped aboard for Alpine Eagle’s close second to Wandjina in the Group 1 Australian Guineas (1600m) at Flemington in early March to round out his autumn.
The Makybe Diva Stakes sees him return to Group 1 racing and to Flemington and with Oliver turning down the ride, fellow jockey Mark Zahra has picked up the mount.
Zahra has had three previous Makybe Diva Stakes rides for one third place finish, his association in the showdown with Alpine Eagle confirmed by his manager Reece Murphy on Twitter on Monday.
Other notable Makybe Diva Stakes bound gallopers this season include the autumn’s Australian Guineas third placed Stratum Star who ran another excellent Group 12 third to Boban in the Memsie beaten only a neck and 2013 Caulfield Cup runner-up to Fawkner Dandino who was dead last in the Memsie in his first run since September last year.
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