The addition of blinkers is expected to help Punishing return to form in the Magic Millions Classic as trainer Liam Birchley chases the first leg of a trans-Tasman feature two-year-old double.
Birchley is also hoping to win his third New Zealand Karaka Million with promising filly O’Reilly Cyrus later this month but first heads to the Gold Coast on Saturday to try to claim his first Magic Millions Classic.
Punishing has been unlucky in the barrier draw with gate 16 but Birchley is hoping it won’t be a total disaster.
“I won’t know if it is bad or good until we see how the track is playing on Saturday. The Gold Coast has had plenty of rain and sometimes the inside isn’t the place to be on rain-affected tracks,” Birchley said.
Punishing won his second start on a soft track in impressive fashion but has had wide draws for his two runs since a spell.
“First-up it was a throw-away run. He was already qualified for the Millions and we didn’t want to knock him about if he got into a bad position,” Birchley said.
“As it turned out he was forced into the worse part of the track and he finished well back. Then at his next start we had to go back from a wide draw again.”
“But I was really pleased with the way he hit the line in that run over the final 200 metres at the Gold Coast. He finished just behind the placegetters.”
Birchley has made the Magic Millions Classic something of a personal Holy Grail and has had at least one runner in the Classic for the past 12 years.
He has had placegetters with Pepperano (2015), Ruby Soho (2014), Missy Longstocking (2013) and Paprika (2009).
The trainer is again looking across the Tasman to the Karaka Million at Ellerslie on January 24.
O’Reilly Cyrus won her only start at Doomben last month and Birchley believes she can follow in the footsteps of Sister Havana (2010) and Hardline (2015) to win the sales-related race.
“I think she is better than Sister Havana and Sarge In Charge, who ran second in the Karaka Million, and on a similar level to Hardline,” Birchley said.
“I am not sure how good the kiwi horses are but she should be very competitive.
Damian Browne, who rode Hardline, will be aboard both Punishing and O’Reilly Cyrus.