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Image: Steve Hart
A wet track at Rosehill is expected to be no issue for the Villiers Stakes-bound Ellsberg

Trainers Gerald Ryan and Sterling Alexiou appear to have pulled the right rein in deciding not to run Ellsberg in The Gong with the horse opening favourite for the Festival Stakes on his home track.

Ryan said they did consider heading to last weekend’s Kembla Grange feature but decided the timing of Saturday’s 1500 metre race was a better fit.

Ellsberg is being aimed towards next month’s Group 2 Villiers Stakes (1600m) at Randwick after a solid spring which has included a close second to Aim in the Silver Eagle and a sound seventh behind I’m Thunderstruck and Gong winner Count De Rupee in the Golden Eagle.

“It was always on the radar that he would have those two lead-up runs into the Golden Eagle and then he’d either go to The Gong, or he would wait for this race and then head to the Villiers,” Ryan said on Sydney’s Sky Sports Radio.

“I thought it might have been better giving him a month between runs and two weeks into the Villiers instead of going three weeks and three weeks.

“Plus it’s 1500 on his home track in a Group Three and he’s still a colt.”

Ellsberg was at $3.50 with TAB fixed odds on Wednesday with Art Cadeau and Brutality sharing the second line of betting at $7.

Bandersnatch is the only other one of the 17 runners at single-figure odds as a $9.50 chance.

Heavy rain is forecast in Sydney over the coming days and while Ellsberg is yet to win on rain-affected ground, he has placed at all three runs on soft and heavy tracks.

His adaptability has come as somewhat of a surprise to Ryan, who said he had expected the four-year-old to struggle in testing conditions given his big frame.

“Looking at the horse, he is a big, strong heavy horse and you wouldn’t think he’d like the wet ground, but do I reckon he can get through it,” Ryan said.

“He ran second at his second start in a race against Enchanted Heart on a heavy nine at Rosehill and Enchanted Heart is hard to beat on wet ground any time.

“It’s not ideal but they’ve all got to go through it.”

The Festival Stakes is a traditional springboard into the Villiers with Montone in 2011 the last horse to win both races.

 
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