Trainer David Hayes says it was an easy decision to let Michael Walker off his ride on Sacred Eye in the Caulfield Classic.
Walker was suspended for careless riding at Caulfield on Wednesday, a ban which threatened to keep him out of the Cox Plate and the ride on Sacred Eye’s stablemate Criterion.
Sacred Eye was Walker’s only mount on Saturday and he needed a release to be back in time to ride the equal favourite in Saturday week’s Cox Plate.
“It’s Michael’s dream, he’s in love with Criterion. I couldn’t do it to him,” Hayes said.
“And I had 15 riders ready to ride (Sacred Eye). He only had one ride for me on Saturday so it was pretty easy, and Sacred Eye is a very good ride.”
Damian Lane will now partner Sacred Eye in the $500,000 Caulfield Classic.
Walker rode Criterion in a work-out at Moonee Valley on Thursday morning with Hayes keen for the horse to re-acquaint himself with the track having not raced there since last year’s Cox Plate.
Criterion had a leisurely hit-out over 1600m in 1:58.87 with a final 400m in 26.75sec.
“It was more a stroll around than a gallop,” Hayes said.
“I think we’ve got him exactly where we want him so he doesn’t need to smash the clock in the mornings. What I was looking for was to familiarise himself again with the place.
“He’s so worldly now, he just took it in his stride. His recovery was great and he hasn’t turned a hair. So it’s all systems go. He’ll do a bit of work on Sunday and then we’ll just taper into the big one.”
The Caulfield Stakes was Criterion’s first Australian start since he won the Queen Elizabeth Stakes at Randwick during the autumn before he embarked on a three-run overseas campaign.
Criterion was one of seven Cox Plate hopefuls to step out at Moonee Valley on Thursday including the Chris Waller-trained trio of Kermadec, Winx and Preferment.
Criterion and Kermadec are equal favourites at $5 for the Cox Plate with Winx at $5.50.