The recent Canberra Cup win of Dark Eyes has earned the gelding a crack at another Cup at Mornington.
The Gai Waterhouse and Adrian Bott-trained four-year-old fended off a challenge from Cool Chap to win the Listed Canberra Cup (2000m) on March 5 by a half-neck to set up a tilt at Saturday’s $300,000 Mornington Cup.
The gelding will step up to 2400m for the first time in his first Victorian start and takes on a field headlined by international visitor The Gold Trail from the Charlie Appleby stable.
The Gold Trail has been installed a clear-cut $2.50 favourite at Crown Bet.
Dark Eyes sits on the second line at $9 and Bott said the in-form galloper had earned his shot at the race.
“This race wasn’t always on the radar,” Bott said.
“The big test for the horse was the Canberra Cup in terms of the distance at that sort of grade.
“He saw it out really well. It was a strongly run race and he was very tough at the finish, and strong through the line, so that gave us the confidence to step him up in trip.
“It looks a nice race for him down there and there’s some good prize money on offer for the owners.”
Bott said Dark Eyes had been going from strength to strength and had settled into Melbourne well.
“He worked at Moonee Valley on Monday and had a good gallop that way of going,” he said.
The winner of the Mornington Cup earns a ballot exemption into this year’s Caulfield Cup, which would be a bonus for Dark Eyes but not the reason his trainers have opted to head that way.
“He’s just a horse in good form and racing consistently and I think it’s the right race to give him the opportunity in,” Bott said.
The Gold Trail, who raced as Gold Trail in the northern hemisphere, has won his past two starts over the Mornington Cup distance at Doncaster and Dubai and will be chasing the Caulfield Cup exemption.
“He’s in peak condition and if he can put in a performance anything like his wins at his last two starts then he should be very competitive,” Appleby’s assistant James Ferguson said.