He had to dig dip to win his hat-trick, this preparation, but that is exactly what quality racehorses do and Luckygray proved his quality by winning the Group 3 $125,000 Hyperion Stakes at Belmont on Saturday June 23.
In the last month the grey flash has also won two other Group 3 races, the Roma Cup (1200m) on May 26, and the Belmont Sprint (1400m) on June 9.
On Saturday he was expected to prove himself an easy conqueror, particularly after his last win where he lumped a weight-carrying record (61kg) from the outside barrier (17) on a softer track and after surviving a heavy bump in the home straight.
As it turned out this one was tougher than anticipated and at one stage, half-way down the home straight, he actually appeared to be struggling to overcome Grand Nivarna.
With Rosie Rocket chiming in between those two, and ultimately dead-heating with Grand Nivarna for second it was a fierce three horse duel.
A comment Adam Durrant made earlier in the day about his own horse, Texan, was also applicable to Luckygray: “a boy becomes a man when a man is needed.”
Trainer Gino Poletti will give his quality galloper a short let-up before sending him to Victoria for possibly four engagements one of which may be at Moonee Valley.
Poletti’s reasoning is to see how he handles that course because the trainer is contemplating a Cox Plate strike in 2013.
This is indeed ambitious stuff. He will face far tougher opposition plus a step-up in distance, to 2040m, being required to win a Cox.
Luckygray has never raced further than 1800m and in a numerical sense that was his worst run. On that occasion he finished fifth, in last year’s Kingston Town Classic, but it has to be remembered it was at the fag-end of that particular campaign and he was hardly disgraced.
In essence that run proved nothing. His usual style of coming from well back suggests more ground may suit him but this is yet to be tested.
However, on Saturday O’Donnell had him racing exactly mid-field with nothing next to him for much of the race and with his two major opponents in front of him.
As the jockey said “I had to press his button today but he responded like the good horse he is.” Indeed, and on the line he had a half-length margin over the two dead-heaters behind him so the margin was better than it looked like being at one stage.
Asked whether he always thought he had the race in his keeping O’Donnell paused and then mischievously, and with a wicked grin, said “Yeah.”
O’Donnell’s additional timely reminder that horses are animals, not machines, was perhaps appropriate as later at Royal Ascot (UK) the champion Aussie mare, Black Caviar was involved in a much tighter win to keep her unbeaten record intact. This happened after Luke Nolen relaxed too soon before the post and his failure to ride Black Caviar right out almost led to her defeat.
Nolen’s ride on the champion has been described by the media as ‘Fool Hand Luke,’ and by the jockey himself as a ‘brain fade.’ No such criticism was made of ‘Smooth Shaun’ who did everything right on the Hyperion Stakes favourite and consequently won only bouquets, not brickbats.
O’Donnell was in great touch at the meeting riding a very similar race on 2YO Friar’s Luck in the first race, the Westspeed Nursery Handicap (1600m), to give trainer Bruce Hyde his first winner since October 21, 2009.
Hyde will now send his promising galloper for a long break with the Derby his target next autumn.
In the same race, Wombie’s Legacy, going for a fourth straight win finished a dismal last and was found to be sore in the off fore.
Stewards later fined trainer Joe Miller $750 for not advising them of the reasons for starting the horse with a bar shoe.
Another jockey to the fore at the meeting was Glenn Smith who also completed a winning double including the Belmont Guineas (1600m) on Rohan.
The WA derby winner was resuming on Saturday and his tenacious win over a determined Accelarometer augured well for future wins over a longer journey.
Earlier in the day, in the second race, Smith was the pilot on Modello, narrowly defeating Tax A Million (Peter Knuckey).
Knuckey had his own narrow win two races later when Fair Hunter flooded home like a tsunami to capture the hapless Cyber Crime just before the winning post.
Cyber Crime has now finished second at his last four runs, mostly by small margins, and a slight hand movement of annoyance by jockey Pat Carbery, just past the post, was understandable.