Hard-working NSW hoop Jeff Penza said his confidence is sky high after putting his Crystal Mile 2015 mount on Cox Plate Day this weekend Sons Of John through his paces in a track gallop on Tuesday morning.
A veteran of close to 5000 rides over the past half-a-decade, Penza has his first ride under race conditions not only at Moonee Valley Racecourse but in Melbourne in Saturday’s $200,000 Group 2 Schweppes Crystal Mile (1600m).
The weight-for-age mile showdown attracted 17 nominations this Melbourne Spring Racing Carnival including last Sunday’s Seymour Cup winner Turn Me Loose for Caulfield Cup winning trainer Murray Baker, and the Group 1 Toorak Handicap (1600m) winning quinella of Lucky Hussler (1st) and Disposition (2nd).
Another in-form hope running in the $1 million Group 1 Emirates Stakes (1600m) lead-up is the Jason Attard-trained Hawkesbury visitor Sons Of John.
The five-year-old Oratorio gelding has won six of his 17 starts to date, including two from six over the mile, but like his hoop is yet to have a run in Melbourne.
This time in the Group 3 Hawkesbury Cup (1600m) winner has had two good runs that he’ll be looking to add to on the weekend.
First-up he crossed a neck away second to the Chris Waller-trained Winx in the Group 2 Theo Marks Stakes (1300m) before his third to the same classy mare, who is a single-figure hope through Ladbrokes.com.au for Saturday’s $3 million Group 1 W.S. Cox Plate (2040m), in the Group 1 Epsom Handicap (1600m) at Randwick on October 3.
The Epsom Handicap form line has proved one to follow into the Crystal Mile in recent years with the past two winners of the Group 2 having finished third in the Epsom in the lead-up with Toydini (2013) and Hooked (2014) achieving what Sons Of John is out to do this year.
Sons Of John drops in class then for the Crystal Mile this weekend, Penza retaining his association with the horse who had the outside barrier (14 of 14) for his brave Epsom run and who the hoop rode in a smart piece of work at Moonee Valley in the Breakfast with the Best.
“It’s not just the first time I’ve been to Moonee Valley, it’s the first time I’ve been to Melbourne so to come here this morning and be a part of it all is a great thrill for me,” Penza told Racenet on Tuesday.
“To have a ride around that track this morning was great because until you get here you don’t realise the way it drops away after you go out of the straight. Then you start to climb from the back of the track to the home straight – it truly is a unique place.
“It’s a great experience. I’ve never been to trackwork before where there’s a bit of atmosphere.
“I can’t wait to go out of that tunnel onto the track on Saturday, especially being on a horse that’s going to have genuine claims.”
Sons Of John worked alongside the Robert Heathcote-trained fellow Crystal Mile hope Hopfgarten, who hasn’t finished in the money since a Toowoomba Cup third behind Gai Waterhouse’s subsequent Doomben Cup winner and Cox Plate hope on Saturday Pornichet back in early May.
The pair ran over 1000m in a time of 1:08.44, including the last 400m in 23.92 seconds, the fourth-fastest of the 42 runs at the course over the morning.
“Very happy with him,” Penza said of Sons Of John post-gallop.
“He was very bright cantering off and was straight onto the bit.
“When I asked him to increase in his work he changed onto his right leg which was good and found the line great.
“He pulled up excellent after the work too. My confidence is high after he worked so well on the track.
“I thought he might get midweek grade early, then he won on a Saturday and the Hawkesbury Gold Cup but even then I wasn’t sure how good that race was so you’re thinking he’s a stakes winner now so he might be at his mark.
“But everything changed when he did what he did in the Theo Marks. We didn’t think he would do that first-up at 1300 (metres) at that level. There were no question marks on that form and he backed it up in the Epsom with another career best run.
“The turning point for him has been his turn of foot. I remember riding him for the first time at Canterbury in December last year and he hit a flat spot, was going nowhere, then with hard riding he started to pick up again after about 100 metres.
“But the horse now has gears and he can do it quickly. I’ve learnt from my career in racing a turn of foot is the difference between good and average horses.”
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