King Gladiator will be given the chance to force his way into the Melbourne Cup this spring after returning in strong fashion at Warwick Farm on Sunday.
The lightly-raced four-year-old, making his first appearance since the AJC Australian Derby in April, was a class above his rivals as he came from the tail of the field to win the Follow Royal Randwick on Facebook Handicap (1600m).
“He’s actually still in the Melbourne Cup,” trainer Chris Waller said.
“That’s miles away but one horse every year I think gets in through the back door and last year it was Maluckyday.
“We’re a chance of following that path but at the same time we’re realistic and he’s got to win every race from now on in.
“We’ll see how we go and he’s certainly got a bright future.”
King Gladiator had six starts in his first preparation with victory in a Hawkesbury maiden on his way to fifth placings in both the Group Two Tulloch Stakes and Group One AJC Australian Derby.
A setback delayed his spring return but the gelding had done the groundwork and after settling back in the field in Sunday’s race he powered home to win by a long head.
“I couldn’t be any happier with that performance and it was a confident ride from Hugh Bowman,” Waller said.
Last year Maluckyday won over 1900m at a Canterbury night meeting in September before winning the Listed Tatts Club Cup (2400m) at Randwick and then the Group Three Lexus Stakes (2500m) at Flemington to win his way into the Melbourne Cup where he finished second.
King Gladiator formed the first part of a race-to-race double for Waller, who also produced three-year-old filly Nocturnelle to win the Ashcroft Handicap (1300m).
Having just her second start, Nocturnelle defeated Magic Millions runner-up Combat Kitty.
Bowman notched his own winning double when comeback galloper Definite Choice returned from a long lay-off to take out the Randwick Betting Auditorium Handicap (1400m).
In a top training performance, Greg Hickman produced Definite Choice after 16 months off due to a tendon injury and the talented gelding won by a half-head in good style.
Definite Choice finished fourth in the 2009 Group One Spring Champion Stakes.
“I trialled him twice and he gave me a good feel but he was a different horse today,” an impressed Bowman said.
“He was never going to get beaten.”