An array of potential spring stars will come out to play in Saturday’s G1 Winx Stakes at Randwick and joining the party will be the John O’Shea-trained Benaud.
The gifted son of Reliable Man will open his four-year-old campaign in top company, having made impressive progress during his classic season.
The Kevin Hickman-bred Benaud, a $280,000 Karaka purchase, followed up a solid effort for fourth in the G2 Tulloch Stakes with a gallant runner-up finish behind the boom colt Hitotsu in the G1 Australian Derby.
O’Shea has given the half-brother to multiple Group 1 winner Tofane a quiet trial ahead of his return and while 1400 metres is short of his best, he has been a past first-up winner over the trip.
The G1 Caulfield Cup remains a possibility for Benaud, although connections are more likely to play a waiting game.
“I might throw him in the Caulfield Cup, but ideally, I’ll just run him in Sydney and run in the Metropolitan and then go to the paddock,” O’Shea told Racing.com.
“Then I’d like to toughen him up over the next 12 months with a view to having a proper go at it as a tough, seasoned five-year-old.
“We really like him. He’s a half (brother) to Tofane and the thing about her is, she got better as she got older so we’re trying to stay patient.
“We’ll put the miles into his legs and hope he develops as a Cups horse as a five-year-old.”
Westbury Stud’s Reliable Man will also be represented at Randwick by the dependable Lord Ardmore and potential improver She’s A Maneater in the Gr.3 Premier’s Cup.
Lord Ardmore has been in great touch for Champion trainer Chris Waller, who is again bullish about the five-year-old’s chances.
“He is in great form, winning his last two. Hugh Bowman rides and he has got a good draw (five). He looks hard to beat,” he said.
The Peter Lock-prepared She’s A Maneater finished midfield behind Lord Ardmore in her Australian debut and the step up to 2000 metres should help her cause.
On the home front, last-start winners and Reliable Man stablemates Samina Bibi and Hail Damage will chase further successes for trainers Shaune Ritchie and Colm Murray at the Whangarei meeting.
Samina Bibi produced a commanding display to resume in style last month and profiles well for the NZB Insurance Pearl Series Race while Hail Damage will chase two on the bounce in the Ruakaka Cup following a most recent lower grade victory.
The pair were bred by Gerry Harvey and sold by Westbury with Samina Bibi, a half-sister to stakes performer Wroclaw, a $170,000 Karaka buy for Ritchie, who secured Hail Damage for $70,000. He is out of a sister to the G1 One Thousand Guineas winner Inaflury.
Hail Damage will be opposed in the Cup by Redwood’s capable daughter Cherry Lane and El Roca’s progressive son Chevron, who has a middle-distance win and consecutive placings from his last three outings on the course.
The five-year-old has the ace barrier to suit his free-going style while the stallion’s dual stakes-winning daughter Irish Girl drew attention to her chances in the open sprint with a luckless last-start fourth.
Meanwhile, El Roca speed merchant Esta La Roca makes a fresh start in the Listed Carlyon Stakes at Moonee Valley where she is a three-time winner over the 1000 metre trip.
She has three black-type placings and more than A$400,000 in career earnings to her credit and trainer Lloyd Kennewell is keen to give the mare chances to win her way into next month’s G1 Moir Stakes.
Esta La Roca hasn’t raced since she blazed over 900 metres at the Gold Coast to win the Bat Out Of Hell in May.
“She’s been really close in a few stakes races and she’ll put a bit more value on herself if she can win one,” Kennewell told Racing.com.
“She’s a fast mare that has done a really good job and she’s in her last 12 months of racing so we’ll try to get that win.
“She’s in good order and she’s done everything right, she needed the trial the other day badly because we haven’t had too much chance to gallop them at Cranbourne because it has been too wet.”
Esta La Roca was a A$47,500 Magic Millions Gold Coast 2YO In Training Sale buy for Kennewell and is a half-sister to the Listed Macau Guineas winner Gold Alloy from a family laden with stakes winners, including Group 1 victors Bentley Biscuit and Thorn Park.
At Doomben, home-bred Skilord will attempt to complete a hat-trick of short course victories when he steps out over 1050 metres in the opening event on the Doomben card, the XXXX Dry Plate.
Trained by Mark Currie, the speedy Swiss Ace gelding is out of the Strategic mare Gemadaily, a half-sister to the Group winners Kittens, Saint Encosta and Sheer Talent.