It was shades of Kent Desormeaux on Big Brown as Australia’s wonder horse Weekend Hussler was stunningly beaten out of a place in the $500,000 group 1 Turnbull Stakes at Flemington Oct. 4. Longshot Littorio took home top honors.
His rider Brad Rawiller gave him little chance of winning, sitting out wide for the entire trip, and was left pondering why when he asked the horse to go at the two furlong mark.
Weekend Hussler, the winner of seven group 1 races and over $3.2 million from his 15 starts top date, was in fourth when Rawiller pressed the go button. But instead of gobbling up the leaders with giant bounds as he usually does, the Hussler went for two strides, then folded. It was his first attempt at 10 furlongs but that combined with the extra ground he covered right from barrier rise, resulted in his tiring 8th of 13 runners six lengths from the winner.
Littorio, a 4-year-old gelding of considerable staying talent, and a lowly bred galloper who had chased Weekend Hussler home in his past two starts, sat behind the champ throughout then exploded with two furlongs left to race. The first horse he went past was the ailing champ and Littorio (Bellotto-Our Centasea) now looms as a tremendous Caulfield and Melbourne Cup chance over the next four weeks.
For the winning trainer Nigel Blackiston, the win by Littorio has put an almighty spring in his step. This is one of those truly genuine and talented racehorses, who can run all day, has a change of gears and puts in 100% every time. Blackiston knew he would win a group 1 race with this horse one day. “I realize he hasn’t won for a while but he’s always been there or thereabouts in these tough group 1 races and we saw the real Littorio today. With further improvement which will come, he’ll be very hard to beat in the Caulfield Cup,” he said.
This was Littorio’s 14th start and just his second win. He won on debut as a 3YO, then placed four times at group 1 level and twice at group 11 before his breakthrough win on Saturday. His purse earnings now stand at Aus$918,475 (U.S$899,500).
Rawiller though was left to lament what happened. As Littorio swept to a well deserved and accomplished win from two other outstanding Cups runners Master O’Reilly and Zipping, Weekend Hussler’s carnival is now in question. The jock, who jumped his mount away in good style but found himself three wide from the outset, tried to ease in behind the pace.
There was an opportunity to tuck in one off the fence with cover after just three furlongs of the race, but Rawiller chose to – a la Desormeaux on Big Brown- sit wide on the fast turf course. He improved four-wide with four furlongs to go and had the Hussler in striking distance on the home turn but there was nothing when Rawiller asked for the supreme effort. He found out he was on a horse – not a machine – although in his previous 12 starts it looked at times like he was on a Ferrari.
Master O’Reilly, last year’s Caulfield Cup winner, sat back near the tail of the field throughout, coming with a paralyzing burst over the final two furlongs in an effort that screamed Caulfield Cup again this year, while Zipping, 4th in the past two Melbourne Cups, did likewise to grab third.
Ross McDonald, who trains Weekend Hussler, rushed very quickly from the grandstand to the enclosure to see what, if anything, had happened to his champ. He found a tired horse displaying no obvious abnormalities.
Rawiller said after the race that he probably should have ridden Weekend Hussler a little differently to how he was ridden on the day and will have a good look at the Turnbull Stakes replay to find out exactly what happened.
“Everyone was riding their race to suit them in comparison to where I was,” he said. “In hindsight, I probably took my sit too soon, I’m looking forward to going back and looking at the race with Ross.”
Another disappointment of the race was three times group 1 winner Tuesday Joy, who incurred an automatic three-month ban from racing in Australia after suffering a heavy bleeding attack that left trainer Gai Waterhouse shattered.
Littorio ran 2.02.44 for the 10 furlongs.