Hall of Fame trainer Murray Baker has won the Group 1 Underwood Stakes (1800m) at Caulfield four times already so he well knows the formidable task he has set for The Chosen One on Saturday. Baker’s previous four winners – The Phantom (1990), Lion Tamer (2011), Dundeel (2013) and Bonneval (2017) – would easily find a place among a who’s who of New Zealand galloping greats over the past 30 years.
While five-year-old Savabeel entire The Chosen One has won six of his 23 starts – four of those at stakes level – and has Group 1 placings to his credit in the Otaki-Maori WFA Classic (1600m) and the Sydney Cup (3200m), he has yet to win at weight-for-age level. However, he was brilliant in winning first-up at Flemington over 1700m, carrying 61.5kg in handicap company and Baker said he was a much stronger horse now than he was 12 months ago when he finished ninth in last year’s Underwood, won by Black Heart Bart.
“It was a sharp run first up, I thought, especially with that weight. He won well and he ran a fast last 600 (metres time),” said Baker, who trains in partnership with Andrew Forsman. “He’s trained on well but we know this is a big step up. We haven’t done a lot with him since the win the other day. We’ve kept him fresh but we’re happy with him.”
Victoria-based Kiwi jockey Michael Dee stays with The Chosen One for the Underwood in which he has drawn barrier two. Currently 34th in the order of entry for the Group 1 $A5 million Caulfield Cup (2400m) on October 17, The Chosen One can secure himself a place in that race with a win on Saturday. He ran ninth in last year’s Caulfield Cup after winning the Group 2 Herbert Power (2400m) at Caulfield.
“We expect him to be running on. It will be interesting to see how he measures up to that Group 1 weight-for-age class in Melbourne. He’s improved from four to five but the Underwood is always a very tough race,” Baker said. “I’ve had a bit of luck in the race and it would be nice to win it again. He’s placed in that Group 1 weight-for-age at Otaki but it’s tougher over there at that level. We’ll just see what he does on Saturday and make plans from there.”
Baker and Forsman will produce this year’s Group 1 Australian Derby (2400m) winner Quick Thinker in Friday night’s Group 3 JRA Cup (2040m) at Moonee Valley as they seek the same double that 2017 Australian Derby winner Jon Snow achieved that year. So You Think four-year-old entire Quick Thinker blotted his copybook with a sub-standard 14th resuming in the Group 1 Makybe Diva Stakes (1600m) at Flemington a fortnight ago but Baker was optimistic of a much-improved showing.
“Jon Snow was our first runner in this race from memory and he won it but Quick Thinker was very disappointing last start,” Baker said. “He just didn’t run up to what we know he’s capable of. But he has trained well since and the StrathAyr track at Moonee Valley and rain on Friday should help him. It will give him the give in the ground he wants. “We think he’ll improve. He was fit going into the race. He’s not a great trackworker but the reports from Aleisha (Legg, travelling foreman) have been positive. We’re happy with him.”
Baker and Forsman will have a handful of runners in New Zealand on Saturday, with Robusto contesting the 1800m open handicap at New Plymouth and Spring Delight, Pearlescence, Crafty Jess and Lord Sibford engaged for Ellerslie. “Robusto is going well but I just hope it doesn’t get too wet down there. We’d like to think she can make the grade for some of the Cups races over summer,” Baker said.
“Spring Delight is always there, a model of consistency. I just hope she can get her win on Saturday, though Pearlescence was running on nicely at Te Rapa last start and she’d be some chance in that race too.”