By Ric Chapman
As the field crossed the line in the $400,000 Australia Stakes (Aust-I) over six furlongs Feb. 14 at Moonee Valley, race caller Greg Miles excitedly roared, “Always beware of a cat backed into a corner.”
Perhaps he had been rehearsing it. Perhaps it was a spur of the moment comment, but the essence of it was spot on. Apache Cat (Lion Cavern--Tennessee Blaze) was back winning yet another group I race, and this time did it with a massive turn of foot.
Back in fifth at the finish was the now fallen idol Weekend Hussler, who has now failed to hit the board in his last four starts. But to be fair to him, connections must look at replacing the rider Brad Rawiller, who again copped justifiable criticism for his ill judged ride.
Having jumped nicely, Weekend Hussler, the raging odds-on favorite with the punters who needed a hero to emerge following the devastation of the killer fires around Melbourne, just slowly went backwards easing out of a speed duel, and allowing horses to get up on his inside.
Rawiller made no effort to get any cover, and the champ was posted four wide for the entire race at the Melbourne track, which is known for its circular circumference.
“I can offer no excuses for his effort,” claimed Rawiller. “He was under pressure a long way from home.”
Weekend Hussler will undergo a series of blood tests during the week. One of the horses that sneaked through on his inside early in the race and pratted him wide was the winner Apache Cat, who was in contrast magnificently handled by Damien Oliver.
Oliver had Weekend Hussler where he wanted him, deep and slightly behind him. Then, when Oliver asked the Cat to pounce, he did, putting three lengths on the field as they straightened up.
Another Sheikh Mohammed 3-year-old--this one named Time Thief--led the star-studded field of 11 until straightening. This was when Apache Cat peeled off his back and surged past him.
Apache Cat kept whacking away to hang on for third, beaten on the line for the runner-up spot by the hard finishing mare Vormista.
Surprisingly, Greg Eurell, who trains Apache cat, confirmed the great sprinter will miss the upcoming Newmarket Handicap (Eng-I) in early March.
“No, I’m going to talk to the connections, but I think you’ll find he’ll go back out to the paddock and have a shot at the Kris Sprint in Singapore which is a group I race, and then head to Royal Ascot in England.”
If he chooses that path, Apache Cat will come up against speedster Takeover Target.
Apache Cat, the one-time wonder sprinter of Australia and a people’s favorite, is no stranger to traveling overseas with the hope of a nation behind him. He represented Australia in Hong Kong last December running a great third.
But his legion of fans dwindled a bit following his poor effort when resuming in Australia over five furlongs a month ago.
“I couldn’t fault him leading into this race, but the racing industry is what it is, and they hang you pretty quick in this caper if you don’t win every time,” Eurell said. “But back to the 1200 metres (six furlongs) today, he was always going to be better suited.
“When he straightened up (for home) it was a tremendous feeling watching him accelerate.”
On the other side of the mounting yard stood a forlorn Ross McDonald, trainer of Weekend Hussler.
“I really hope there is something wrong with him, because that effort was too poor to believe,” he said.
Strangely, McDonald stood by his rider. “There was nothing wrong with Brad’s ride. The horse just put in the worst run of his career. I just don’t have any answers, there is a big chance that he might go back to the paddock.”
The Australia Stakes was run in the brilliant time of 1.09.64, only .37 outside Miss Andretti’s Moonee Valley track record. The last three-furlong sectional was run in 35.12 seconds.
Apache Cat has now won $3.9 million in purse earnings. “This horse hasn’t lost anything, he was back to his best today,” added his rider Oliver.