Wez Hunter’s veteran galloper Smokin’ Joey lines-up in a Mornington black-type this weekend looking to earn a shot in The Goodwood 2016 this autumn in Adelaide.
The rising nine-year-old son of Encosta De Lago is one of a bumper 37 sprinters nominated for the $120,000 Listed Hareeba Stakes (1200m) on Mornington Cup Day in Victoria on Saturday.
The top-rated of the early entries for the handicap clash, Smokin’ Joey will carry the 60kg top weight as he searches for his maiden win since success in Caulfield’s Group 3 Bletchingly Stakes (1200m) last July.
He has had two unplaced runs this campaign, the latest of which was a seventh to Tried And Tired in the Listed Super Saturday Stakes (1400m) at Flemington on March 12 that followed his 14th to Flamberge in the Group 1 Oakleigh Plate (1100m) in late February.
Hunter is relying on better luck in the Hareeba Stakes for his brave Group 1 winner who he rates a strong hope of improving sharply in the sprint clash third-up.
“His first-up run in the Oakleigh Plate was really good,” Hunter told Racing Victoria.
“The Newmarket winner [The Quarterback] was only a couple of lengths in front of him. That form’s pretty good.
“Second-up in a non-speed bias race, he was back and giving them weight and really had no hope.
“Three weeks between runs, and back to six furlongs, I think he’ll run well.
“We’ve had him down the beach, and really kept him fresh.
“Hopefully he can come here with fresh legs, but he’s got that residual fitness.
“He doesn’t cop much work, I think 6-7 furlongs is as much as he wants.
“His full brother [Our Smoking Joe] won over 2500m, I don’t think he wants much further than 1400m.
“He’s a Group 1 winner over 1200m, and we’ll keep him at that.”
If the horse does improve the way Hunter believes he can, he’ll look at taking him to the same elite level races he has contested the past two years on the trot.
Smokin’ Joey won Adelaide’s Group 1 The Goodwood (1200m) in 2014 before his 14th in the same Morphettville race last year, while trips to Queensland for the Group 1 Stradbroke Handicap (1200m) produced two eight place runs in Brisbane’s richest race.
“He’d want to stick his hand up this week to warrant whether he goes [to Adelaide and Brisbane],” Hunter said.
This year the $500,000 Darley Goodwood runs on May 21, while the $1.5 million Stradbroke Handicap returns to Eagle Farm Racecourse on June 11.
Other notable Hareeba Stakes nominees for this weekend meanwhile include the Robert Smerdon-trained Listed Abell Stakes winner last time out Reldas (57.5kg), It Is Written (56kg)who comes off a 10th in the Group 1 William Reid Stakes (1200m) beaten under five lengths last Thursday night and the Pat Carey-trained Dan Zephyr (55kg).
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