Mornington’s Wez Hunter is confident heading into Saturday’s Bletchingly Stakes 2016 with the defending champion Smokin’ Joey.
The eight-year-old son of Encosta De Lago won last year’s edition of the weight-for-age sprint on the back of an Eye Liner Stakes win in Queensland that winter, and is back for another shot at the $150,000 Group 3 Bletchingly Stakes (1200m) this weekend.
He hasn’t won a race over the past 12 months however and was last seen finishing a distant 16th of 18 runners beaten 13 lengths by Black Heart Bart on May 21 in Adelaide’s Group 1 The Goodwood (1200m).
Hunter though remains confident ahead of the galloper’s first-up run at Caulfield where he has a strong record of four wins and two seconds from 15 previous starts, happy with Smokin’ Joey’s recent work and attitude.
“I’m confident we’ve got him back to his best, so if that’s good enough. I think he’s as good as what he was last year when he won it,” Hunter told Racing Ahead on RSN.
“In the spring, he was bitten by a spider. His leg blew up badly, and it took a lot of time to get him back right.
“I don’t think we got him right at all in the spring or in the autumn.
“This time around, he’s back to himself.
“For a rising nine-year-old, he’s pretty active, and hopefully that translates to a good run tomorrow.”
The latest Bletchingly Stakes odds at Ladbrokes.com.au are led by the returning Darren Weir-trained Mahuta ($3), while Smokin’ Joey pays $17 to become the first back-to-back winner of the race since You Remember (1995-1996) 20 years ago.
Currently the Caulfield track is rated a Soft (5), which looks ideal for Smokin’ Joey according to Hunter.
Scratched out of the Bletchingly Stakes field in favour of a run in next month’s Group 2 P.B. Lawrence Stakes (1400m), The Cleaner would’ve been the one bringing a real pace to Saturday’s race up front.
Still, Hunter hopes the speed is still on with the likes of the John Sadler-trained Caulfield specialist Charmed Harmony, Strategic four-year-old Tudor and Robbie Laing’s smart stallion Lord Of The Sky notable front-runners who will be up to up the tempo.
“As long as Lord Of The Sky, Tudor … all these horses look like they might jump and roll, so as long as they do and there’s genuine speed, he’ll get his chance,” Hunter said.
Second-up following the Bletchingly Stakes Smokin’ Joey could face off against The Cleaner in the PB Lawrence Stakes.
Hunter is hoping Smokin’ Joey continues to show a zest for racing despite his age and earns another shot at Group 1 glory this Melbourne Spring Racing Carnival.
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