Trainer Richie Stephenson will go against his better judgment and give Toowoomba flyer Azzaland his first weight-for-age test on a heavy track in the Group Two Victory Stakes at Eagle Farm.
Stephenson is not concerned the six-year-old has never raced under weight-for-age conditions but his worst possible fears have come true with a heavy (8) rating for Saturday’s 1200-metre feature.
“I’m not really worried about him at weight-for-age,” Stephenson said.
“He’s carried big weights all his life and he had 58 kilos the day he ran a track record at Eagle Farm at the start of the year.”
Shane Scriven, who is riding on a stay of proceedings pending his appeal against his infamous whip-stealing incident at Ipswich earlier this month, retains the ride on Azzaland.
Azzaland maintained his unbeaten record from two starts this campaign when he recorded his first win over 1200 metres in the Listed Bribie Handicap at Doomben on April 16.
The gelding’s Bribie victory came on a dead track while his previous Eagle Farm win was on a slow (7).
The son of Za-Im has won 12 of his 19 starts but has only one placing from two attempts on a heavy surface.
“I’ve accepted with him so I’ll have to run. It’s too expensive to scratch,” Stephenson said.
“He’s won on a slow so hopefully the weather will clear and we’ll get back to a slow track.”
Course manager Bill Shuck doesn’t hold out much hope for a track upgrade but sunny skies on Friday lifted his confidence.
Stephenson is delighted with Azzaland’s progress since his Bribie Handicap victory.
“The race was run to suit the other day. There was a lot of pace on and he came up along the fence,” he said.
“He’s done a treat since then and hopefully he can take the next step.”
Stephenson has nominated Azzaland for the major Group One sprints of the BTC Cup, Doomben 10,000 and Stradbroke Handicap but expects to take on the second-tier sprints.
“I’ve nominated him for those races because you’ve got to pay a lot of money if you change your mind later on,” he said.
“It’s better to get in when the cheap seats are available.”
Stephenson hopes the small field of seven will help Azzaland’s cause from barrier two and rates Group One The Galaxy winner Atomic Force as the main threat.
Atomic Force has found a new lease of life with Newcastle trainer Darren Smith who landed his first Group One win when the sprinter claimed The Galaxy at Randwick earlier this month.
Smith will formulate a winter program for Atomic Force after the Victory Stakes but is adamant the eight-time winner won’t contest the major Group One sprints, the Doomben 10,000 in May and the $1 million Stradbroke Handicap at Eagle Farm in June.
However, he would not rule out jumping into the ring against champion Black Caviar in next month’s Group One BTC Cup (1200m) at Doomben.