Champion trainer Gai Waterhouse boosted her chances of a record-equalling seventh Epsom Handicap success when King Lionheart outgunned his stablemate Fast Clip to win Saturday’s Shannon Stakes at Rosehill.
Waterhouse’s six Epsom wins are one shy of her late father TJ Smith and she said King Lionheart had earned his place in next Saturday’s field with his emphatic win in the Group Two 1500m feature.
King Lionheart, who firmed from $18 to $8, sat off the leader Fast Clip ($2.40 eq fav) during the run before proving too strong on the line, winning by a length with another half-length to Lone Command ($17) in third.
The other equal favourite Secret Admirer didn’t produce the same finish she had in her first two starts this campaign and had to settle for fourth.
“King Lionheart was always on target for the Epsom but winning today really confirms it,” Waterhouse said.
“The other horse (Fast Clip) will wait two weeks and head to the Toorak Handicap in Melbourne.”
Waterhouse praised the winning ride of young jockey Tommy Berry and said the 20-year-old would retain the mount in the Epsom next Saturday.
“I couldn’t get him off,” Waterhouse said.
“Those colours are printed on his skin.”
Berry joined the Waterhouse stable early this year and said his feature race win on King Lionheart was a big boost.
“We got where we wanted in the run and I was happy just to tag (leader) Fast Clip because I knew that my horse had a better turn of foot,” Berry said.
“I was able to sit off him then serve it up to him in the straight and we pulled away for a nice win.”
Waterhouse said King Lionheart was locked in along with stablemates More Strawberries and Light Brigade for the Epsom.
There was drama before the start when fancied runner Torio’s Quest dumped jockey Hugh Bowman shortly after going onto the track and the Queensland Guineas winner was a late scratching.
“He just bounded off, they all do it, but he went straight across the track to the fence,” Bowman said.
“I thought he was going through it (the fence) but as he got to it he took a sharp left and hung me out to dry.”
The riderless Torio’s Quest then crashed through the outside running rail at the 1600m mark.
Stewards indicated the gelding had escaped serious injury but had a nick on his right off-side knee.
Trainer Brett Partelle is expected to have the horse scanned on Sunday.
Brenton Avdulla, rider of Group One winner Secret Admirer, said the mare’s performance was OK after settling midfield in running.
“Hopefully she pulls up alright and we go around next week,” Avdulla said.