The Robert Heathcote-trained Buffering staked his claim for the Manikato Stakes when he scored a narrow but game win in the Group Three McEwen Stakes at Moonee Valley.
Heathcote, who has won the past two trainers’ premierships in Brisbane, but blinkers on him for the first time to give the Queenslander his first Victorian metropolitan victory.
The Mossman four-year-old arrived in Melbourne on Tuesday and Heathcote gained special permission to give him a gallop at the Valley on Wednesday ahead of Saturday’s 1000m weight-for-age event.
“Special thanks to (track manager) Marty Synan and his team here at Moonee Valley,” the Eagle Farm trainer said.
“I couldn’t get a flight to get him here for Tuesday and they kindly opened the track on Wednesday and it could well have been the difference between winning and losing.”
Heathcote said he put blinkers on the gelding to wake him up for the 1000m trip, his first outing since finishing fourth to Pinwheel in the Group Three WJ Healy Stakes (1200m) on his home track in June.
Ridden by Queensland-based Kiwi jockey Damian Browne, Buffering ($8.50) sped to the front from barrier eight in the nine-horse field and lasted by a nose from Crystal Lily ($3.40) with Atomic Force ($7.50) a nose away third.
“I put the blinkers on him to really sharpen him up and to really get him to get out there and ping,” Heathcote said.
“I may take them off for the Manikato. It will be a tough call, I know, but that’s one thing I’ll work out when we get closer to it.
“I’ll talk to Damian about that but it was a shock tactic today and it worked.”
A $22,000 purchase at the Gold Coast Magic Millions yearling sales, Buffering has won eight of 17 starts and just under $900,000 in prize money.
“He’s been a lot of fun to us,” Heathcote said.
For Browne it was a welcome return to Victoria where he was based several years ago with former trainer Rob McGuinness at Caulfield and won the 1996 South Australian Derby aboard the Cliff Brown-trained Cheviot.
He rode Cheviot into 10th place to Saintly in the Melbourne Cup later that year but soon after returned to New Zealand.
“It’s been at least 15 years since I last rode here so to come back here and get the money is fantastic,” Browne, who has been based in Queensland the past nine years, said.
“He’s a really honest type and there is improvement in him. It’s a huge jump up in class but he deserves a crack at those horses (in the Manikato).”
The Group One Manikato (1200m) opposition will include top colt Sepoy and multiple Group One-winning mare More Joyous under lights at the Valley on September 30.