Wolfe can provide Gai Waterhouse with further cause to celebrate and reflect on her remarkable training career if he wins the Listed $150,000 Australia Day Cup (2400m) at Warwick Farm on Tuesday.
Waterhouse has been announced as a recipient of the Officer of the Order of Australia (AO) in the Australia Day honours list.
The AO is awarded for “distinguished service of a high degree to Australia” and the champion trainer has certainly made an extraordinary contribution to the thoroughbred racing industry since taking out her trainer’s licence in 1992.
Waterhouse has trained almost 5000 winners during her career with 144 at Group 1 level including a record seven Golden Slippers, seven Doncaster Miles, seven Epsom Handicaps, eight The Metropolitans, Melbourne Cup, Caulfield Cup and four Queen Elizabeth Stakes.
Racing’s “first lady” has also trained some of the nation’s most outstanding racehorses in the modern era including Pierro, More Joyous, Juggler, Nothin’ Leica Dane, Desert War, Grand Armee, Dance Hero, Tuesday Joy, Stony Bay, Pharaoh, English and Farnan.
Waterhouse, the daughter of legendary trainer Tommy Smith, joined her father in the Australian Racing Hall of Fame in 2007 and the Sporting Australia Hall of Fame in 2018.
In 2000, she was awarded the Australian Sports Medal and is one of a select few Australians named as a “National Living Treasure” by the National Trust of Australia.
She has also prepared a record four winners of the Listed $150,000 Australia Day Cup (2400m) and hopes to add to that tally with Wolfe at Warwick Farm on Tuesday.
“It would be fitting to win this race again with Wolfe after being mentioned in the Australia Day honours,’’ Waterhouse said.
“It’s very touching, very humbling to be honoured with this award. I think it is great that racing gets the recognition it deserves, too.’’
Waterhouse, who has won the Australia Day Cup with Taikomochi (2020), Havana Wind (2005), Stoway (2003) and Angellen (1998), said Wolfe is ready to return to winning form after a close last start second to Spirit Ridge in the January Cup.
“Wolfe is doing everything right, his work has been absolutely outstanding. He is getting up to 2400m at his third run in but that is no issue, he’s a natural stayer and it’s exactly what he is looking for.’’
In overnight TAB Fixed Odds for the Australia Day Cup, Wolfe is the $3.60 favourite ahead of German import Skymax at $4.80.
Skymax was an impressive winner over the Warwick Farm 2400m course two starts back then struggled in heavy conditions when shouldering 61kg at Kensington and finished only fourth to Power Of Attorney.
Trainer Mark Newnham felt there were genuine excuses for Skymax’s last start loss and expects a vastly improved run on Tuesday.
“Skymax’s has a massive drop in weight (down 8kg), back on a firm track and over a course and distance where he won so brilliantly two starts back,’’ Newnham said.
“The weight drop is the big factor as I thought he was poorly handicapped last start. But he has come through that really well, he looks great.’’
Waterhouse, who has trained in partnership with Adrian Bott since 2016, also has good winning chances with $4.60 favourites Ahso in the Impending At Darley Handicap (1600m) and Escaped in the Ranvet Handicap (1200m).
“I like Ahso very much,’’ said Waterhouse of the Sebring three-year-old who won on debut at Warwick Farm over 1200m earlier this month.
“I realise he is jumping out to 1600m but he will appreciate this distance. He’s a promising young horse.
“Escaped is going really well, I can’t fault him. He’s going to be very hard to beat.’’
NIKOHLI BEAGLE TO MAINTAIN MOMENTUM
Trainer Jarrod Austin’s first impression of Nikohli Beagle was hardly favourable.
“I’ve got to say when he arrived at my stable from Queensland, he was an overweight, little fellow and I thought we might struggle with him,’’ Austin revealed.
A few months later, Nikohli Beagle is unbeaten in three starts for Austin and makes his city debut in the Ranvet Handicap (1200m) at Warwick Farm.
Austin admits he has been “pleasantly surprised” by the sudden emergence of Nikohli Beagle since the sprinter joined his team as a maiden last spring.
Nikohli Beagle has stormed through the grades on the bush and provincial circuit, winning his maiden at Orange, a class 1 at Kembla Grange then a class 3 at Nowra.
“His work was the same all the way through, he wasn’t showing a great deal on the track and he still doesn’t but on raceday he keeps getting better and better,’’ Austin enthused.
“He has very good acceleration, he really lets down at the end of his races which is a great asset to have.’’
Nikohli Beagle, a chestnut four-year-old gelding by Nicconi, has been so impressive in his three wins this summer that TAB Fixed Odds price assessors have rated him at $5 for Tuesday’s race behind Escaped ($4.60 favourite) and He’s A Hotshot ($4.80).
“This is a big step up in class but my gut feeling is he will handle it just the way he has improved with racing and the acceleration he has got,’’ Austin said.
“I think he is up to midweek grade and then we will see if he can keep improving to Saturday class next preparation.’’
Nikohli Beagle is owned in similar interests to another former Queensland sprinter, the classy Looks Like Elvis.
Austin took over the trainer of six-year-old gelding Looks Like Elvis this season, with the sprinter-miler winless in six starts during spring but demonstrating his class with a close third in the Group 3 Shannon Quality and fifth in the Group 1 Epsom Handicap.
“I’ve struggled to map out a (autumn) program for Looks Like Elvis, I’d like to get a win under his belt,’’ Austin said.
“But he is coming up well and he may trial at Warwick Farm next Monday. I’m looking at possibly the (Group 1) Canterbury Stakes as his first run back this year.’’