Zabeelionaire emerged as the horse to beat in next month’s South Australian Derby when he stormed home around the entire field to score a timely win at Caulfield.
The three-year-old has been frustrating for his connections but is peaking after trainer Leon Corstens changed race tactics and got apprentice Jake Noonan to ride him cold in Saturday’s Eastern Bridge Plate (2000m).
Zabeelionaire was still second last at the 800 metres and at least 10 lengths off the lead at the 600 as Noonan urged him forward.
Around the home turn he was the widest runner and almost got to the grandstand rail as he hung badly trying to get past Red Typhoon but soon put the race beyond doubt.
He speared clear of the field which was full of other SA Derby hopefuls to score by 2-1/2 lengths from Chieftain Jack and Campeao.
Such has been Corstens’ frustration with Zabeelionaire he threatened to geld the colt had he not won on Saturday.
“I whispered to him if he didn’t win today that on Monday ‘they’ would be gone but whether that helped or not I don’t know,” Corstens said.
“His work has been sensational and I thought he would be better if he was held up.
“You just have to take the initiative away from him early and get him to switch off and then he finishes his races off.
“When he puts his mind to it he is a pretty good horse.”
Last spring Zabeelionaire finished fourth to Sangster in the Victoria Derby but Corstens said he was physically a better horse now.
“He was quite immature but I think this time around he has developed a bit more and even in the last month or so has gone through a growing phase,” he said.
“I thought he looked terrific today. He was nice and calm and hopefully he is peaking at the right time.”
Noonan said Zabeelionaire “relaxed into a good rhythm” but it wasn’t until he peeled of the back of Red Typhoon at the top of the straight that he thought he would win.
“He is a very impressive horse,” Noonan said.
Zabeelionaire has now won two of his 10 starts with his other success three starts ago in a Geelong maiden over 1700 metres which he won by eight lengths.