Future plans for talented four-year-old Dawn Passage will hinge on his performances in a brace of feature races over the coming weeks.
Trainers Gai Waterhouse and Adrian Bott have targeted the entire at the $1 million The Gong (1600m) at Kembla Grange on Saturday, ahead of the Villiers Stakes over the same journey at Randwick in December.
His results will determine what path he takes in the autumn, with the winner of the Villiers earning a ballot exemption from the Group One Doncaster Mile.
Dawn Passage will tackle The Gong at his third campaign run and Bott says the Kembla Grange feature has always been on his spring agenda.
“That’s been the plan all along. We’ve also got a race like the Villiers on the radar for him,” Bott said.
“These next two runs will help finalise what his autumn campaign might look like.”
Bott has been ensconced in Melbourne for the past few weeks and will remain there to oversee the Tulloch Lodge runners at the Ballarat Cup meeting on Saturday before returning to Sydney.
He has been keeping close tabs on the NSW team and says the reports on Dawn Passage have been positive.
The horse was a courageous third to Colette in the Golden Eagle last start after racing wide on a heavy track, conditions he usually dislikes.
He bounced out of the run and has been kept up to the mark with a recent barrier trial victory at Wyong.
The Gong will be his first test over 1600 metres but given how well he coped with 1500 metres on testing ground last start, Bott expects Dawn Passage to be untroubled by the extra distance.
“Getting out to the mile the first time, you’d think he’d be able to see it out, particularly given the prospect of a good, quick track,” Bott said.
“Also his pattern of racing, he can often settle well in his races and he’s got a good turn of foot when he conserves his energy.
“I expect him to be able to do that from the nice soft draw.”
Dawn Passage has the inside gate in the capacity field of 16, which is headed by last year’s winner and 60kg top weight Mister Sea Wolf who has drawn well in barrier six.
Mister Sea Wolf will be joined in the race by his Chris Waller-trained stablemates Olmedo and Reloaded, while James Cummings will also saddle up three runners with Cascadian, Best Of Days and Asiago all acceptors.
Koby Jennings combined with Godolphin to win the $7.5 million Golden Eagle on Colette and gets another chance to land a feature for them aboard Best Of Days.