Now that the winner of the Mornington Cup in a fortnight gets a free ticket into the G1 Caulfield Cup in October, the race has attracted a great deal more interest and this afternoon's prelude has assembled a handy group of stayers on target for the feature...
A capacity line up will contest the 2000m prelude around Caulfield, headed in the Betfair markets by the in-form Tuscan Fire and Elusive King, however I am expecting a forward showing by the Peter Moody-trained White Universe, a stablemate of Elusive King.
This lightly raced galloper prepared by Moody on the Caulfield track boasts some excellent form lines prior to an enforced layoff from racing due to injury. In the middle and latter half of 2011, White Universe strung together a series a city wins including a hat trick that culminated with victory over Stoneblack at Sandown over 1800m. However, it was his last run before injury that now stands out like a form beacon, White Universe running third to subsequent Group 1 performers December Draw and Green Moon over 2000m at Flemington after suffering severe interference mid race.
White Universe was off the racing scene for 455 days before resuming over 1440m at Caulfield early last December. While the run was respectable enough getting home well late over an unsuitable distance, next up he ran even better over 1410m on the spacious Flemington track, finishing third to British General in a race that has produced four subsequent winners. Two back he had little luck in the Listed Lord Stakes over 1600m at Mornington under 57.5kgs after a wide run. But perhaps his best effort was last start at Flemington over 1720m.
After drawing badly, rider Luke Nolen had little option but to take the gelding back towards the rear in a big field and ride for luck. Unfortunately luck was not forthcoming, however White Universe found the line strongly after making up plenty of ground in the straight. White Universe has now raced four times since a spell and it is significant he has won his only run fifth start from a spell. The gelding should be close to peak fitness and ready to return to the form that earned him a 102 Timeform rating. Certainly the low draw today will present Nolen with options and I can envisage White Universe getting a lovely run behind the pace.
Elusive King, the stablemate to White Universe, rates very well on weight-adjusted Timeform ratings and appears very well placed for a return to the winners' list. Although he does not own a very good overall career strike rate, upon closer examination at this distance a different story is revealed.
Despite being out of the winners' list for 413 days, Elusive King has not enjoyed the best of luck in recent campaigns and much of that form can be ignored, especially focussing on his last three runs that have all been in the frame efforts. Two starts back he carried 60kgs when a close up third to Keep Cool and Tuscan Fire in a form race that is relevant this afternoon.
Elusive King meets Tuscan Fire a significant 8kgs better for a half head defeat plus Keep Cool has come off that race to win last Saturday.
In his only run since when coming off a 28 day break Elusive King led most of the way over 2000m at Flemington only surrendering late to Kutchinsky. That effort will have topped him off nicely for this race and ,with Brad Rawiller retaining the mount, looms as the main danger to White Universe. In fact it would not surprise if Moody got a 1-2 finish.
Tuscan Fire has been in outstanding form of late with two seconds and two easy wins at his last four runs. While he has paid the price for that form having to shoulder 59kgs here, a horse in form like him cannot be underestimated. Currently Timeform rated 102, Tuscan Fire will have to find more to feature, but that is very possible the way he is performing.
Two back he scored over 2000m at Flemington, easing down by over two lengths promising more to come, which it did last time out, also at Flemington but stepping up to 2500m. Again Tuscan Fire, although carrying a three kilo penalty, led throughout to win quite easily from Crafty Cruiser. Here he will carry an additional two kilo penalty and comes back 500m in distance, a task that won't be easy. Still he has the advantage of Glen Boss in the saddle and the ability to race on the speed both positives this afternoon.
The Queensland and South Australian Derby placegetter Westsouthwest is working up to another win. He looks well placed. Trained by Robert Smerdon, Westsouthwest is nearing peak condition and most of his runs this time in have been sound considering the unsuitable conditions and distances. Last start was the only suitable race, distance wise, he has contested this preparation and he caught the eye finishing fourth to Kutchinsky, the same race that Elusive King comes out of. They meet on the same weight terms here.
Westsouthwest is profiling as a dour stayer this time in and even the 2000m maybe a shade short of his optimum trip. However, if he runs to his peak Timeform rating of 109, he is a must include amongst the winning hopes, especially racing on his home track.
Top weight Lucky Eighty Eight, Timeform rated 106, is down to carry 60kgs but the seven-year-old is nearing top form after three runs back from a spell. He comes through the same last start race that White Universe contested over 1720m at Flemington, Lucky Eighty Eight finishing almost two lengths astern White Universe and meeting him two kilos worse at the weights today. However, Lucky Eighty Eight still has scope to improve his ratings and leading rider Michael Rodd takes the ride for the first time.
Enjoy an interesting Prelude that will undoubtedly shape the form going into the Listed Mornington Cup on February 13th.
Off Time: 04:25 GMT
Get FREE Timeform Star Ratings & Verdicts for racing in Australia and New Zealand at timeform.com/free/