Jockey Brenton Avdulla is booked to ride the Patrick Webster-trained Happy Clapper in Saturday’s Epsom Handicap 2016 but said barrier one is the only gate he had been hoping not to draw.
A 13-starter field of milers is engaged to face off in this year’s $1 million Group 1 Epsom Handicap (1600m) at Royal Randwick and the inside alley belongs to this year’s Doncaster Mile runner-up Happy Trails.
The six-year-old son of Teofilo will jump from barrier one, which last produced an Epsom Handicap winner with Excellerator (2002).
The horse’s regular rider Avdulla continues his association on the weekend riding Happy Trails for the ninth time on the trot, but admits the gate won’t do his mount any favours.
“It is probably the only draw I didn’t want with him, I’ve won an Epsom from 16, I’ve won a Villiers from 16, I love the Randwick mile but I always prefer to draw wide, especially with a horse like him,” Avdulla, who partnered the 2011 Epsom Handicap winner Secret Admirer from barrier 16 of 17, told Racing Victoria.
“So barrier one will be tricky but I won’t have to think during the run, I will be mid-field on the fence and just hoping things can happen for me from the corner.”
Happy Trails hasn’t been first past the post since his Group 2 Villers Stakes (1600m) success at the same track / distance as the Epsom back in December last year.
He raced exclusively in Group 1 company during a four-start autumn campaign that included two brave placings.
The first came third-up when second to Chris Waller’s superstar mare Winx in the Group 1 Doncaster Mile (1600m) before he was stepped up in distance just seven days later for a third to Lucia Valentina on April 9 in the Group 1 Queen Elizabeth Stakes (2000m).
This time in Happy Trails has had two Randwick runs finishing 2.6 lengths away fifth to Hauraki in the Group 2 Tramway Stakes (1400m) and 1.1 lengths back for sixth to Sons Of John a fortnight ago in the Group 3 Bill Ritchie (1400m).
He carried 59kg that day and drops notably to 55kg in the Epsom Handicap weights, an exact weight not carried to victory in the Sydney Spring Racing Carnival classic since Kinjite (1992).
The only six-year-old winner since 2001 was He’s Your Man (2014) two years ago, one of three Waller-trained Epsom champs from the past three years along with Boban (2013) and Winx (2015).
From nine starts overall at the Randwick track, Happy Trails has a strong record of three wins, a second and a third.
He also has plenty of form over the mile with two wins, a second and a third from four starts over 1600m.
All of these stats add up to him being rated a genuine $7.50 chance in the latest Epsom Handicap odds at Ladbrokes.com.au, a price Avdulla believes he deserves in a Winx-less Epsom field.
“It is basically the same prep as his last two seasons, when we won the Villiers he was third-up, we thought we would win the Doncaster on the same preparation,” he said.
“That was until Chris Waller decided to run Winx in it a week before the race.
“After that I thought we were probably racing for second and that is what happened.
“There is no Winx here so we get our opportunity to win a Group 1.”
Palentino from the Darren Weir stables leads the Epsom Handicap betting markets at $6 on the back of his Group 1 Makybe Diva Stakes (1600m) success last time out.
No Epsom Handicap winner in the past 30 plus years has won on the back of a Melbourne lead-up in a statistic that goes against this year’s top fancy.
Back your early Epsom Handicap betting selections online now at the right price through Ladbrokes.com.au – home of Odds Boost (T&Cs apply).