Trainer Robbie Griffiths hopes a return to his pet track down the Flemington straight on Saturday will hopefully see The Quarterback give the field of Group 1 stars a run for their money in the Newmarket Handicap 2016.
A total of 23 sprinters are still officially in the mix for this year’s $1.25 million Group 1 Lexus Newmarket Handicap (1200m), one of two elite level Melbourne Autumn Racing Carnival classics running on ‘Super Saturday’.
Red hot favourite at $2.20 through Ladbrokes.com.au in the latest all-in Newmarket Handicap odds is the Team Hawkes-trained $3.88 million earner Chautauqua.
Chautauqua was runner-up in the race 12 months ago and has blitzed a host of Group 1 races since including his first-up win in the Lightning Stakes (1000m) on February 20 at Flemington.
He now shoots for the double most recently achieved by the mighty Black Caviar (2011), the Lightning Stakes having produced four of the past five Newmarket Handicap winners.
Fellow Group 1 winners and Lightning graduates Japonisme ($4.60) and Terravista ($5.50) who ran third and second respectively to Chautauqua last time out are the other top fancies for the weekend’s rematch.
The Quarterback meanwhile is rated a $17 hope in futures Newmarket Handicap betting, Griffiths saddling-up a starter in the feature for the third time shooting for his first top three finish.
His Street Boss five-year-old The Quarterback comes via a different lead-up having run a brave sixth beaten under two lengths by the winner Flamberge in the Group 1 Oakleigh Plate (1100m) at Caulfield a fortnight ago.
On that day Griffiths’ runner reeled off the fastest closing sectionals, something that didn’t go under his trainer’s radar.
“I thought his closing sectionals were fantastic and I think his form at Flemington is outstanding,” Griffiths told AAP this week.
The galloper visited Flemington to enjoy a black-type win in the wet over 1000m during the Melbourne Cup Carnival, and also finished a close third to Headwater last start at the track in the Listed Kensington Stakes (1000m) on January 30 carrying 60kg.
“Going back to that track (Flemington) that he’s had such a good record at, and the extra 100 metres on top of the Oakleigh Plate, you’d think it should be a really good race for him to run well in,” Griffiths added.
“The hardest part is it’s hard to be super confident in a Newmarket because of the strength of the race.”
The Quarterback now boasts three wins and four thirds from 10 runs at the track, although Griffiths isn’t sure that his 52kg to Chautauqua’s 58kg is enough of a relief for him to score the boilover.
“It’s a relatively compressed scale so he probably needs more relief than he’s got, but it is what it is,” Griffiths said.
“We’ve just got to deal with that and hope that there’s enough in him to rise to the occasion.
The last double-figure Newmarket Handicap winner was Shamexpress ($14 in 2013), so there is still hope for The Quarterback according to the history books.
“I’ve always thought now he’s a bit older the 1200 down the straight at Flemington in a Newmarket with a light weight would always be probably his best chance at a big race in Melbourne,” Griffiths said.
“Hopefully it works out like that. It’s a crackerjack race with those superstars in it, but that’s what Newmarkets get in them.”
Craig Newitt partners The Quarterback for the first time on Saturday shooting for a third win in the race following successful rides aboard Miss Andretti (2007) and the aforementioned Shamexpress.
Get behind your Newmarket Handicap 2016 selections now at their generous pre-field odds at Ladbrokes.com.au before final acceptances and barriers for the classic close on Wednesday.