Brisbane trainer Robert Heathcote has won Group One races in Melbourne, Perth and Dubai but has yet to crack it at home.
He will be looking to change that at Doomben on Saturday with Hopfgarten in the $1.5 million Stradbroke Handicap (1350m).
Retired stable star Buffering, whose last win was the 2016 Al Quoz Sprint in Dubai, failed to add Brisbane’s premier race to his imposing interstate record in three attempts, finishing second twice.
The Heathcote-trained Woorim and Solzhenitsyn won Group One races in Melbourne but both were unplaced in the Stradbroke.
Hopfgarten doesn’t have the same profile but Heathcote believes an aggressive ride and a big drop in weight from his last-start failure will help.
The gelding finished seventh, beaten 12 lengths, in the Kingsford Smith Cup won by Clearly Innocent at Eagle Farm last Saturday week.
“I was expecting a much better run and at one stage I thought he might have hurt himself. He seemed to drop the bit at the 600 metres and wasn’t trying,” Heathcote said.
“He is an older horse now and has a few tricks. I will be telling the jockey (Ron Stewart) to stand over him and ride him more aggressively.”
Hopfgarten was inspected by Racing Queensland stewards on Thursday and passed fit to race after some concerns over a hind leg. Heathcote said the six-year-old sometimes appeared stiff when he first came out of his box but was fine once he warmed up.
Heathcote believes Hopfgarten is far better suited under handicap conditions than at the weight-for-age of his past two starts when second in the Victory Stakes before the Kingsford Smith Cup.
“He drops sharply in weight and it will be the lightest he has had to carry in years with 53.5kg,” Heathcote said.
“It isn’t the strongest Stradbroke and he will meet the Kingsford Smith Cup winner far better at the weights,” Heathcote said.
“Then again he would need to improve a good bit to beat Clearly Innocent. I am realistic and the market has us about $31 and that is the right price on his last run.”
“I am just hoping we can turn it around and we will see what Hopfgarten can really do.”
Hopfgarten is part-owned by Heathcote’s wife Vicki and former rugby league star Bruce Harry who were also in the ownership of Buffering.
“Hofgarten only cost $26,000 and he has won more than $700,000 so he owes us nothing,” Heathcote said.
“It will be a good party if he can run well.”
Vicki Heathcote and Harry also have shares Kaiser Franz who was $81 when he won the Premier’s Cup and runs in the Group Two Brisbane Cup on Saturday.
“He has a light weight and will run the trip (2200m) right out so he has some hope,” Heathcote said.