Co-trainer Simon Zahra said it was time to put the pressure on emerging stable star Durendal who faces his toughest test to date in Saturday’s 2016 Australia Stakes at Moonee Valley Racecourse.
The flying four-year-old son of Medaglia D’Oro makes his Group 2 debut at the notoriously tight track this weekend in the $200,000 Group 2 Jeep Australia Stakes (1200m).
The weight-for-age sprint attracted 19 nominations on Monday morning including a host of Group 1 winners and performers Durendal will need to beat to extend his winning streak to four on the trot.
He’s won all three of his starts since late November at Ballarat, continuing to rise through the ranks as Zahra and fellow Flemington-based trainer Mathew Ellerton step him up in class.
Last time out on January 1 at Flemington Durendal saluted as the $2.60 favourite for the punters in the Group 3 Standish Handicap (1200m) with a smart three-quarter length victory over Zupacharged.
Now he heads to the Valley for the second time where possible Australia Stakes rivals include the defending champion Mourinho, Phillip Stokes’ returning 2014 Emirates Stakes winner Hucklebuck, last Saturday’s Chester Manifold Stakes champ Tudor and John O’Shea’s class three-year-old Holler.
Durendal’s only other run at the track was back in November of 2014 when he ran third to subsequent Group 2 Caulfield Sprint – Tab.com.au Stakes double winner Éclair Choice over 1200m at just his fifth career start.
Not only does he not boast the Group 1 experience of many of his likely rivals but Saturday is also his first weight-for-age run.
Zahra though couldn’t be happier with the horse’s fitness and current condition since the Standish Handicap success on New Year’s Day, the galloper having spent a week at owner David Moodie’s property before returning to his stable to gear up his work again.
“He stayed in work but he was in the paddock during the day and stabled at night,” Zahra told Racing Victoria.
“He worked in the morning and was back out in the grass during the day. It was just to get him out of the stable for a little bit and freshen him up.
“He’s been in work a while so it was just something a bit different for a week and hopefully it pays off.”
Durendal is scheduled to have a final serious gallop on Tuesday morning and Zahra hopes everything continues to go exactly as planned as it has all preparation.
“He still looks fantastic,” he said.
“His form as a three-year-old was good and he’s been placed really well this campaign and built his confidence up.
“Now we’re going to go to the Valley, it’s something a bit trickier and a bit different and we’re going to raise the level again and see if he can stand up.”
The final 2016 Australia Stakes field and barrier draw is out on Wednesday, but Zahra believes the horse’s ability to run on speed and create luck throughout a race means the gate draw won’t be all that crucial.
“Now it’s a different ball game being weight-for-age and we’re confident enough he’ll graduate, whether it’s now or in the future,” he said.
“But it’s time to start putting the pressure on him and see where we end up.”
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