Warrnambool trainer Matthew Williams is confident Gailo Chop has retained his ability and zest for racing.
But he suspects the nine-year-old will still be lacking the necessary match fitness to challenge the favourites in his return from a lengthy injury lay-off in the Makybe Diva Stakes.
Gailo Chop is scheduled to resume in Saturday’s Group One Makybe Diva (1600m) at Flemington, having not raced since finishing second to Winx in the Queen Elizabeth Stakes at Randwick in April last year because of a tendon injury.
Formerly trained by now disqualified Darren Weir, import Gailo Chop has been with Williams since January steadily building towards his return.
“His owners have certainly been very patient and given him every opportunity to get back to full strength of the tendons and back to the track in the best order that he can be,” Williams said.
“We couldn’t be happier with where we’re at with him but he is probably going to go to Flemington on Saturday at best at around 90 per cent fitness.
“That’s just mainly because we’ve done as much as we can on the track and with the use of the treadmill, but it’s just match fitness now.
“For an older horse that has had a long lay-off, you just can’t replace the match fitness no matter how much you do at home.
“I would think if he was finishing in the first half on Saturday that would certainly be a pass mark.”
The 18 nominations for the weight-for-age race include eight individual Group One winners.
Mystic Journey, winner of 11 of her 14 starts including her past seven, is the $2.10 favourite ahead of recent Memsie Stakes winner Scales Of Justice ($5.50).
Gailo Chop ($26) will progress to the Underwood Stakes second-up, with the Cox Plate (2040m) his main spring aim.
Williams said Gailo Chop had done a lot of work on a treadmill, although he has been taken away from home for a few gallops, and has also won three Cranbourne barrier trials.
“For an older horse, he’s only had 29 starts so he’s quite lightly raced,” Williams said.
“He’s not an old horse to ride. He feels terrific. His action is great.
“In all the trials when Mark Zahra has been on board, he has reported back that the horse has still got that zest for racing.
“Hopefully he runs above expectations on Saturday and if he was within a couple of lengths or something like that you’d be ecstatic, knowing you’ve got him back to that stage.”
Linda Meech is booked to ride Gailo Chop on Saturday.