Former New Zealand Horse of the Year King Mufhasa may be a late entry in the Cox Plate after finally clinching an elusive Australian win in the Group One Toorak Handicap at Caulfield.
The seven-year-old was having his 11th Australian start on his fifth visit when he delivered what New Zealanders all knew he was capable of in Saturday’s 1600-metre feature.
Camped outside the Gai Waterhouse-trained leader Fast Clip, he had the race run to suit him and found another gear to sprint clear at the 300 metres.
Backed from $13 to $9, King Mufhasa scored by a long neck from Peter Moody-trained stablemates King’s Rose ($4.80 fav) and Luen Yat Forever ($6.50) but jockey Michael Rodd said he could have found more if the challengers had got any closer.
“It was probably one of the easiest Group One rides I will have for a while,” Rodd said.
“I just had to steer him around.”
Rodd said King Mufhasa lost a length when he slipped at the start but was able to take up his favourite position on the pace at Fast Clip’s flank.
“I was told his last sectional (200m) was a tick under 11 seconds which shows he had it pretty easy early,” Rodd said.
“He showed he is a class horse and he deserves his Group One today.”
Trainer Steve McKee said he always had faith that King Mufhasa would eventually show his best to Australians and was thrilled that it was in a Group One.
“We’re happy the horse has finally been able to bring his best form here and show the form we know from New Zealand,” McKee said.
Last autumn King Mufhasa finished a close fourth to last year’s Toorak winner More Joyous in the Group One Futurity Stakes (1400m) at Caulfield.
The Toorak has generally been a race for the lighter-weighted horses with no more than 55kg but King Mufhasa carried topweight of 58kg as did More Joyous a year ago.
McKee said he now fears the gelding, who has won 16 of 45 starts, will be weighted out of next month’s Group One Emirates Stake (1600m) at Flemington, fuelling speculation that the owners will part with $130,000 to pay a late entry fee for the Cox Plate in two weeks.
The Toorak Handicap first prize was $210,000.
“It (running in the Cox Plate) would not be my first choice but he is a seven-year-old gelding and if the owner wants to go it is up to him,” McKee said.
McKee said King Mufhasa was essentially a sprinter-miler.
He was crowned the 2009 New Zealand Horse of the Year as well as Champion Sprinter and Champion Miler, and was Champion Sprinter again in 2010.
“You never say he is better than before but he is in top form at the moment and hopefully he will hold it for a while longer,” McKee said.