The countdown to the Sydney Spring Racing...
Connections of talented Australian colt Star Witness are brimming with confidence that the son of Starcraft can bounce back and secure his maiden international win in the July Cup before returning Down Under to serve at stud.
One of the country’s highest-rated three-year-olds, the Danny O’Brien-trained Star Witness boasts an impressive record of four wins and five minor placings from their 12 career starts to date that have earned in excess of $1.36 million in prize money.
He will embark on his swansong racing assignment in Saturday week’s Group 1 Darley July Cup (1207m) at Newmarket, which will be Star Witness’s third European run and the last of his career before he retires to stand at Widden Stud.
A dual Group 1 winner back home in Oz thanks to victories in both the 2010 Blue Diamond Stakes and Coolmore Stud Stakes, Star Witness is also a multiple elite level placegetter both in Australian and England.
Boasting a close second to sprint queen Black Caviar in last spring’s Patinack Farm Classic, Star Witness had a disappointing start to the year including his last Aussie assignment when eight lengths away seventh again to the ‘Black Flash’ in the Group 1 Newmarket Handicap (1200m) at Flemington on March 12.
Connections then embarked on an ambitious overseas crusade with Star Witness at Royal Ascot.
In his international race debut, Star Witness finished half a length away second to Prohibit in the Group 1 King’s Stand Stakes (1005m) on June 14 his run marred by a horror barrier 18 draw.
Next start, another double-digit gate hampered Star Witness’s chances when they finished a brave third to Society Rock in the Group 1 Golden Jubilee Stakes (1207m).
Jockey Steve Arnold, aboard for both of the Royal Ascot runs, is in high spirits that the July Cup will be the race where Star Witness breaks his international maiden status after partnering with the sprinter for trackwork at Newmarket on Tuesday.
Star Witness worked over the last five furlongs of the rolling Newmarket course, Arnold pleased with the horse’s preparatory performance.
“I was happy,” Arnold said.
“He doesn’t seem to have lost anything since Ascot and seems to be holding his form well, which is important.
“If he repeats his run at Ascot he’ll be competitive.
“It’s a different race pressure, so you never quite know, but he handled the track no problem.”
Arnold has previous race experience at Newmarket and knows both the track and horse well, giving him a nice advantage ahead of Saturday’s showdown.
“There’s a steep uphill lay, but for the first couple of furlongs they sort of go downhill and I wouldn’t be surprised if it wasn’t quite as testing as Ascot,” he said regarding the undulating Newmarket course.
“I rode here two years ago.
“It’s a six-furlong straight race with a few undulations, but I’ll just ride the horse where he’s comfortable.”
Adding to the pressure on Star Witness and Arnold to produce the winning ride for the colt’s grand finale is that if they do salute, Star Witness will become the first Australian-trained July Cup winner in history.
“An Australian-trained horse has never won the July Cup, so we’re going in there very aware it has been a bridge too far for the Australians in the past,” Star Witness’s Flemington-based trainer O’Brien said.
“Naturally it’s a challenge and we’d like to be the first to win it.
“He’s every bit as good as he was on Jubilee Day.
“He came out of the King’s Stand in great order and ran very well on the Saturday without conditions really being in his favour.
“He’s had three weeks since and really enjoyed the environment.
“He certainly hasn’t gone backwards.”
O’Brien is banking on a prestigious international elite level win, which will dramatically increase the worth of the already very valuable Star Witness as a stallion.
“Wins are what matter in (the stallion) department,” he said.
“We’ve been close but to get the real enhancement we have to win, and probably over the three races the July Cup is the most prestigious.
“Danehill has been the biggest influence in our part of the world breeding-wise, and he’s a July Cup winner.
“If you go through the records, there’s been a lot of horses that have won the July Cup and had a great influence down in the southern hemisphere.”
Star Witness currently sits as the $7 second favourite in July Cup betting behind Godolphin’s Delegator, winner of the Duke Of York earlier this season, at $4.50.
Godolphin’s racing manager Simon Crisford said Delegator, who missed out on the Royal Ascot, would have to show he is superior than his official rating if he was to become the July Cup winner this year.
“There are horses in the race with a much higher rating,” Crisford conceded.
“He goes into the race with a rating of 112, which isn’t good enough to win a July Cup, so he needs to demonstrate that he’s better than the official handicapper says he is.
“Now it is up to the horse to show he can perform beyond 112 and we very much hope he can do that.
“He certainly gives us that feeling anyway.”
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