Phil Stokes has already achieved more than Melbourne’s two best trainers could with Eclair Surprise.
He now plans to take things to a new level in the Group Three Eclipse Stakes (1800m) at Sandown on Saturday.
Originally trained by Peter Moody, Eclair Surprise rapidly revealed his potential, winning a Geelong maiden at his first start and a Listed race at Flemington at his third.
After breaking down and spending a year recovering he returned to training under Robert Smerdon, running well in three starts without winning.
After another enforced break Eclair Surprise was transferred to Stokes who immediately tapped into the gelding’s abilities.
“The thing about him is that he’s a very good horse,” Stokes said.
“It makes training them a lot easier.”
Eclair Surprise began his latest preparation with a moderate second over 1400m at Morphettville, improved considerably to win the Listed Murray Bridge Gold Cup (1600m) and then came to Flemington on Cup day to score another Listed win over 1800m.
Over the same distance at Sandown he is third favourite in a race Stokes believes suits him admirably.
“He comes in very well under the conditions, especially against horses he’s already beaten,” Stokes said.
“It’s obvious he has the ability, he showed that when he was with his previous trainers.
“He needs to take another step up but everything he’s done says he’s capable of it.”
Stokes came to Flemington confident Eclair Surprise still had some improvement to offer after his Murray Bridge run and is equally hopeful there is more to come at Sandown.
“The one thing that concerns me is the track,” Stokes said.
“He ran one of his worst races here the only time he’s been to Sandown.”
It seems more likely, however, that the best racing surface in Melbourne will suit Eclair Surprise.
The gelding has come from near last at his past two starts, so should appreciate the 500m, uphill run in on the Hillside layout.
The favourite for the Eclipse is Star Of Giselle who has won her past three starts in mares races.