Lucia Valentina has overcome a less-than-ideal lead into the Turnbull Stakes to win the Group One race at Flemington and cement Caulfield Cup favouritism.
Aided by a top ride from Kerrin McEvoy, Lucia Valentina sprinted strongly from a midfield position in Saturday’s 2000m feature to add a second Group One to her resume.
Lucia Valentina was found to have a hoof issue on Wednesday with a bruised sole and had to pass an examination from a Racing Victoria veterinarian.
While trainer Kris Lees was confident the mare would be right, he admitted it wasn’t ideal.
“She’s chased home some pretty good horses there. It’s onwards and upwards,” Lees said.
“It’s never ideal when they have an issue midweek. She hasn’t done any fast work since Tuesday, so there’s a little bit of improvement there.
“That’s a good sign.”
The trainer added it might have been a blessing in disguise as Lucia Valentina sprinted well when a gap appeared in the straight after McEvoy angled the mare out to take a run between eventual fourth-placegetter Puissance De Lune and runner-up Lidari.
Lucia Valentina ($8.50) defeated the Peter Moody-trained Lidari ($18) by half a length with Lidari’s stablemate Brambles ($10) a short half-head away third.
Lucia Valentina is outright favourite at $5 for the Caulfield Cup (2400m) and Lees was encouraged by how strong the mare was to the line.
“Kerrin put her into a nice spot and then she just needed a bit of luck and a clear crack at them and she obtained that and she was very strong,” he said.
McEvoy recently decided to go freelance after being stable rider for sheikh Mohammed’s Godolphin operation and Lucia Valentina’s Turnbull win was the jockey’s first Group One since making that move.
He won a Caulfield Cup on Godolphin’s All The Good in 2008 and believes Lucia Valentina has the right credentials for this year’s renewal.
“She’s an exciting mare to be on heading towards the Caulfield Cup,” McEvoy said.
Jockey Tommy Berry believes The Offer is on target for the Melbourne Cup after his sixth, but Berry is also praying for rain to get the stayer on softer going.
Last year’s winner Happy Trails finished 14th but wasn’t able to be fully tested in the straight after being blocked for a run on the rails.
“I didn’t have any luck in the straight,” Happy Trails’ jockey Michael Rodd said.
“I wouldn’t drop off him for the Cox Plate yet.”