Sydney-based trainer Annabel Neasham may only have one Group 1 victory to her name, but she now holds the cards in a fortnight’s time for the Group 1 Doomben Cup after Zaaki’s devastating win in the Group 2 A.D. Hollindale Stakes on the Gold Coast on Saturday.
The six-year-old English import caught many punters by surprise when he stormed home in between runners in the Doncaster Mile in his first Australian start to finish sixth, and he was just unable to get the job done in his next start when sent around as $3 favourite in the Group 3 JRA Plate at Randwick.
With the $700,000 Doomben Cup his main target race on May 22nd, the son of Leroidesanimaux made his presence felt in Queensland by winning the $500,000 A.D. Hollindale Stakes by 2.25 lengths eased down.
After settling close to the speed in the run, James McDonald was able to cruise into the race and avoid any trouble on the heavily backed favourite.
“Gee, ‘JMac’ (James McDonald) is the best for a reason,” Neasham said.
“It was a beautiful ride and I just left it to him.”
In Zaaki’s Australian runs prior to Saturday’s victory, the gelding had settled towards the rear with only two horses behind him on both occasions, so the forward showing did come as some surprise to his English trainer.
“He ended up a little bit further forward than I thought,” Neasham said.
“There didn’t look like there was going to be a whole lot of speed and he’s quite a strong traveller.
“But to be honest, once he got in that spot, I was quite confident he was going to be hard to beat.”
While it is clear that Zaaki has plenty of talent, Neasham said he also has quite a bit of attitude, nearly bucking her off in the trotting ring on the morning of the race.
After being the runner-up over 2000m on April 24th, the two-week turnaround and step back to 1800m looked to suit him down to the ground.
“I think that’s when he’s at his best,” Neasham said.
“He’s dropped back to the 1800m and I think probably the most exciting thing about him is that Michael Stout trained him back in England and their team are adamant he’s much better on firm ground.
“They said he didn’t really like soft ground.
“Hopefully the Doomben Cup, even if we get a firm ground we might see an even better performance.”
Saturday’s win came on a Soft 6 track, with the Group 2 field running 1:50.57 over the 1800m.
Zaaki is now a $3.60 favourite with most online bookmakers for the Doomben Cup, where he will meet similar opposition with the addition of Cox Plate winner Sir Dragonet and All-Star Mile winner Mugatoo.
The Ratings Bureau analyst Daniel O’Sullivan dubbed Zaaki’s win as the best-rating performance at 1600m+ in Queensland in at least the past five years and believes he is the clear horse to beat in the Doomben Cup.