Almandin earns spot in exclusive club
ALMANDIN inked his name alongside some of the great stayers in Australian racing with an outstanding win at Rosehill Gardens on Saturday.
Might And Power (1997), Ethereal (2001), Makybe Diva (2005) and now Almandin are the only Melbourne Cup winners to return and win the Group 1 $1.5 million Kia Tancred Stakes (2400m).
Hyperno won the Tancred in 1978 then took out the Melbourne Cup the following year.
It is an exclusive club which Almandin gained membership with his Tancred triumph.
Champion jockey Kerrin McEvoy was having his first ride on Almandin since winning the Melbourne Cup two years ago and produced a masterful tactical effort.
"When Almandin jumped so well I decided to go forward and be close to the favourite, Gailo Chop,'' McEvoy said.
"I was under no specific instructions except to have Almandin travel where he was comfortable but I didn't want Gailo Chop to be 10 lengths in front of us mid-race.
"He was full of beans throughout the run, he travelled really well. He pinged the lids and travelled a bit more forward than I thought we might be but he travelled really well and he was strong at the end of the 2400m today."
McEvoy was banking on Almandin's superior staying ability kicking in under pressure and he was proved right.
Almandin ($3) forged to the front halfway down the straight and scored by 1¼ lengths from former Japanese stayer Ambitious ($21) with veteran stayer Who Shot Thebarman ($61) a half head away third.
Gailo Chop ($2.30 favourite) followed early leader Lasqueti Spirit most of the race and had his chance from the turn before finishing fourth.
Liam Howley took over as trainer at Team Williams about four months ago and only had 10 starters before Almandin provided him with a breakthrough Group 1 winner.
Racing NSW stewards later fined Howley $1000 for failing to notify them of a change of riding tactics.
McEvoy has only ridden Almandin twice for two Group 1 wins - and must be in line to ride the stayer next start in the Group 1 $2 million Sydney Cup (3200m) at Royal Randick on Day Two of The Championships, April 14.
"I've been booked for one of Lloyd Williams's stayers in the Sydney Cup, I hope it is Almandin,'' McEvoy said.
"It's pleasing to get back on him. Obviously I would like to thank Liam Howley, Nick Williams and Lloyd Williams for the opportunity and they've got there horse in great shape today.
"He's moving very well, he was nice and bright beforehand as Lloyd and Liam said, and it's good to see him bounce back at the top level.''
Almandin has topweight of 57kg in the Sydney Cup and importantly can't be re-handicapped despite the Tancred Stakes win.
Ladbrokes reacted immediately to Almandin's dominant staying effort and firming the stayer's Sydney Cup price into $3.50 favourite.
"The plan was to go from the Australian Cup into this race then into the Sydney Cup,'' part-owner Nick Williams said. "Unless Kerrin got off and said we should be running him against Winx, which I'm sure he won't be doing!"
It is usually the way of Team Williams to give their best stayers light autumn campaigns in readiness for another Melbourne Cup preparation - but Australian Turf Club chairman Laurie Macri was having none of that.
"I've really got to say that the only reason we are here today is that Laurie Macri rings us every week saying when are you going to bring a horse to Sydney,'' Williams said.
"We might have had Rekindling here but he had a little setback so we gave him a quiet autumn but Lauri said you have got to bring some of these big horses up and he's putting so much effort in to this carnival that we have got to support it.
"It's a great few days racing and we're looking forward to getting to Randwick. It's fantastic to see the blue and white (colours) in Sydney."
Almandin, a German-bred stayer, is an eight-year-old but was having only his 20th race start, scoring his seventh win in the Tancred to take his career earnings over $5 million.
Ambitious ran a blinder for second and his odds for the Sydney Cup were slashed from $51 to $8 - but trainer Anthony Freedman said the stayer is an unlikely starter.
"We may look at taking on Winx in the Queen Elizabeth Stakes, the Doomben Cup is an option, or we may do nothing and send him for a spell,'' Freedman said.
"His main aim in the spring will be the Cox Plate.''
Who Shot Thebarman could have been a little unlucky not to finish a touch closer after being held up for a run in the straight but his effort to run third was outstanding, convincing trainer Chris Waller to press on with Sydney Cup plans for the evergreen nine-year-old stayer.