Englishman Harry Herbert is in Australia with high expectations for Libran in the Sydney Cup as the syndicator continues to build the profile of Highclere Thoroughbreds in the southern hemisphere.
Herbert, the chairman and managing director of Highclere, is confident there will be no repeat of last year in the $2 million Sydney Cup on Saturday.
Brenton Avdulla virtually pulled Libran out of the race at the 800m, concerned about his action on the heavy track, and the horse was later found to be mildly lame.
It was the second running of the Sydney Cup after the first was declared a no-race when Almoonqith broke down on the first turn out of the straight and his jockey was still on the track mid-race.
A year earlier, Libran ran second to Gallante in the Cup (3200m) and Herbert said everything pointed to that sort of performance this time around.
“Back in England we get the photographs of the horses and the videos and we saw a very different horse this preparation,” Herbert said.
“Physically he looks so much better and he hates a wet track. Last year was a complete wash-out.”
A $21 chance with the TAB on Wednesday, Libran hasn’t raced since his second to Cup rival Auvray in the Group Three Sky High Stakes on March 17.
The 2016 Melbourne Cup winner Almandin led the market as the $4 favourite.
Herbert was disappointed to draw the second widest gate but was sure Avdulla could overcome that obstacle.
“Chris (Waller) will be wanting to settle anyway,” he said.
While Libran is the standard bearer for Highclere in Australia, Herbert plans to build his locally sourced talent after focusing on sending established performers south.
“We bought three yearlings at the Gold Coast sale and we’re having a look at Inglis. If we add one or two fantastic, if we don’t it’s not the end if the world,” he said.
Given Libran’s success Herbert said there would always be a place for imports.
“We’ve just added Pioneertown (to Lindsay Park) and Joshua Reynolds is with Gai (Waterhouse),” he said.
“They’re very much a long-term project and hopefully they’re the right sort of profile to do well down here.”
Herbert said the prize money on offer in Australia made the work involved in sourcing and relocating a horse worthwhile.
“Libran’s earned around 1.2 million dollars since he’s come down here and to be running in a two million dollar race … you can’t do that in many places,” he said.