Annabel Neasham can put an exclamation mark on a dream debut season if she can coax import Blue Soldier to produce his best form at Royal Randwick on Saturday.
Former Irish galloper Blue Soldier makes his Australian debut in the Bowermans Commercial Furniture Handicap (1400m).
Blue Soldier, a Listed winner and Group 2 placed as a two-year-old, was considered good enough to contest the Irish 2000 Guineas and French Derby last year, finishing unplaced in both Group 1 classics before the gelding was sent to Sydney to Neasham’s Warwick Farm stables to continue racing.
But given what Neasham has achieved this season with another import, the spectacular Zaaki, there is probably an unfair level of expectation for Blue Soldier’s Randwick debut.
However, the rookie trainer is the first to admit Blue Soldier is not Zaaki.
Blue Soldier, a four-year-old gelding, has had two barrier trials in recent weeks in which he hasn’t exactly set the world on fire.
Neasham diplomatically described Blue Soldier as a “work in progress”.
The import is expected to improve again next preparation.
“Blue Soldier is a nice horse but he might just take a bit of time,’’ Neasham said.
“He does have good form overseas and he would be one of the best-bred horses going around.’’
Blue Soldier is by champion American stallion War Front, sire of Declaration Of War, US Navy Flag, War Command, War Of Will, Homesman, Air Force Blue and Lancaster Bomber, out of the Galileo mare Marvellous, winner of the Irish 1000 Guineas.
Marvellous is a full sister to five-time Group 1 winner and now leading sire Gleneagles, and dual Group 1-winning two-year-old filly Happily.
Despite Blue Soldier’s outstanding pedigree and impressive racetrack performances overseas, the four-year-old gelding is at $23 with TAB fixed odds for his debut for the Neasham stable. The in-form Oscar Zulu is early favourite at $4.40.
But don’t be surprised if Blue Soldier makes his presence felt at Randwick because Neasham has had a season of firsts in 2020-21.
James McDonald rides Zaaki to a commanding victory in the Doomben Cup. Picture: Trackside PhotographySource:The Courier-Mail
Neasham left her comfortable position in charge of the Warwick Farm satellite stable of Melbourne-based trainers Ciaron Maher and David Eustace and launched her own training business in the competitive cauldron of Sydney racing at the start of the 2020-21 season. She has achieved so much in her first year of training, including:
● Her first starter was a winner, Commanding Missile at Scone last August. In fact, the first three starters Neasham sent to the races all won.
● Ghostwriter was the trainer’s first metropolitan winner, scoring at Doomben in October.
● Ruddock was Neasham’s first Sydney winner at Canterbury in November.
● Equation was her first stakes winner, in the Listed Canberra Guineas.
● Neasham’s first Group 1 winner was Mo’unga in the Rosehill Guineas.
There are plenty willing to argue Neasham also has the nation’s No.1 racehorse in Zaaki – but more about him later.
Neasham’s impressive debut season has so far produced 30 winners, including two at Group 1 level, plus two wins each at Group 2 and Listed level, from only 159 starters at a strike rate of 19 per cent winners to runners, and stable prizemoney of nearly $4m.
“Our results have been over and above what I had expected,’’ Neasham said.
“It’s been a great season and a good one to springboard off for the new season.’’
Neasham’s two Group 1 wins came from Mo’unga and Zaaki (Doomben Cup), two of the nation’s most exciting racehorses.
Mo’unga is loaded with talent and was installed by TAB fixed odds price assessors this week as the $8 favourite for the $1.5m Epsom Handicap (1600m) at Randwick on October 2.
Zaaki has been at the top of betting at $3.50 for the $5m WS Cox Plate (2040m) at The Valley on October 23 since his sensational seven-length romp in the Doomben Cup in May.
“You want those headline horses in the stable,’’ Neasham said.
“Mo’unga and Zaaki will lead the way, obviously, and we have some nice, young horses coming through as well.
“Equation had a bone chip removed after the Canberra Guineas but he is back in work and we will target the Golden Eagle with him. The 1500m of the Golden Eagle is an ideal distance for him.
“Queen of Wizardry had a busy two-year-old season, going to the Magics (Magic Millions) and then running in all three Group 1 races in Sydney (Golden Slipper, ATC Sires Produce Stakes and Champagne Stakes).
“So, we are going to give her an extended break and probably aim at the Magic Millions in summer, then I think she could be a very good Vinery Stud Stakes type of filly next autumn.’’
Mo’unga provided Neasham with her first Group 1 success. Picture Getty ImagesSource:Getty Images
Neasham did reveal that her very talented young sprinter Prague, a dual stakes winner who was luckless running fourth at Group 1 level in the Newmarket Handicap and All Aged Stakes earlier this year, had been retired to stud.
“Prague picked up a minor injury and it was enough to rule him out for the spring,’’ she said.
“He is headed off to stud, which is disappointing as I felt he was going to win a Group 1 race, but I think he will make a very good sire.’’
Neasham provided an update on her two stable stars.
Her rising four-year-old Mo’unga is back in work and likely to resume in the Group 1 $500,000 Winx Stakes (1400m) at Royal Randwick on August 21.
“Mo’unga will kick off in the Winx Stakes and he is on a path to either the Cox Plate or the Golden Eagle,’’ the trainer said.
“When I look back on his autumn campaign, he looked great at the mile in the Randwick Guineas (second to Lion’s Roar) but he has strengthened up during his break.
“It’s too early to say what we will aim him at in the spring.’’
But Neasham is more definite about her plans for Zaaki, for obvious reasons.
The former English galloper has made a stunning transition to Australian racing, ending his debut campaign here with three successive wins in Queensland – Group 2 successes in the Hollindale Stakes and Q22 either side of his runaway Doomben Cup triumph.
Zaaki earned a lofty 126 Timeform rating by winning the Doomben Cup and is clearly the highest-rated racehorse in the nation over a middle distance or staying trip.
“We are looking forward to having Zaaki back in the stables on Monday,’’ Neasham said.
“He has put on weight during his break and looks well. I don’t think he will be ready for the Winx Stakes and I’m looking more at a race like the Tramway Stakes (Randwick, September 4) as his return race.
“I haven’t locked in a spring program but he will head to the Cox Plate.’’
Back to Blue Soldier. His Australian debut at Randwick on Saturday adds interest to a low-key, late-season Sydney Saturday race meeting.
Neasham doesn’t have any spring carnival plans for Blue Soldier but given what the trainer has achieved in her first season, anything is possible.
Originally published asNeasham on the march for more success
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