If it was any other year Junoob would have been spelled after his gritty win in the Neville Sellwood Stakes at Rosehill on Saturday, but trainer Chris Waller said he would be a brave man to tell connections that.
Junoob is certain to head to the Queen Elizabeth Stakes at Randwick in a fortnight for what is now the second richest race in Australia after the Melbourne Cup.
Waller admitted he would normally send the horse straight to Brisbane or go for a spell, but the impact The Championships has had on racing in Australia can’t be underestimated, according to the premier trainer.
“The whole complexion of this carnival has changed,” Waller said.
“We’ll have to see what the weather is like but, with The Championships and the prizemoney increase, it’s hard to tell owners they shouldn’t run their horse in a $4 million race so he’ll be a chance of going to the Queen Elizabeth if we think he’s a real chance.
“The Queen Elizabeth is the new Cox Plate and at this time of the year it’s probably a more open race than the Cox Plate.”
But the Queen Elizabeth was the last thing on Waller’s mind during the race as Junoob looked to be in big trouble on the heavy ground only to dig deep in final furlong to beat Hippopus by a short neck with Lucky Lago in third as favourite Entirely Platinum faded after leading.
“He was gone at the 400m, so it was a big win,” Waller said.
“I wasn’t shaking my head but I was saying to myself ‘why did you run him’ and that he’d be a tough horse to run third or fourth, but to see him fight back like that was pretty impressive.
“I still don’t think he handles it [wet track]. Obviously he’s got untapped ability that we haven’t seen before. We didn’t see it during the first preparation but we’re seeing it more with each start.
“I only ran him because there were no other options, but good horses break rules.”
Waller, like most at the track, was feeling the effects of Nathan Berry’s death just 48 hours earlier and he, along with Junoob’s jockey Blake Shinn, paid tribute to their friend and colleague.
“Considering what we’ve been through in the last week, it’s little things like this that help me get through today and it’s given some of our staff that were close to Nathan a push through, “Waller said.
Shinn said he was “honouring one of our greats” as he piloted Junoob to victory.
“What a great win, it’s testament to the horse,” Shinn said.
“When Entirely Platinum went at the turn he wouldn’t quicken and I was labouring in the conditions but he responded under hard riding and it was just his class that got him through it.”
“He wasn’t really travelling that well from the 600m but he lifted in the last 200m and it was a very courageous victory.”
Gai Waterhouse said Hippopus would go straight to the Sydney Cup after his runner-up finish.