Less than a month ago, the Caulfield Cup wasn’t the priority for Ciaron Maher with Smokin’ Romans as he was focused on the Melbourne Cup.
Since then, Smokin’ Romans, in a surprise to the trainer, has won twice over 2000 metres. He took out the Naturalism Stakes at Caulfield and then the traditional lead-up race to the Caulfield Cup, the Turnbull Stakes at Flemington.
Smokin’ Romans winning the Turnbull Stakes at Flemington.Credit:Getty Images
He is now a $4.80 favourite to win the Caulfield Cup with PointsBet.
The main reason Maher chose to run him in the Naturalism Stakes at Caulfield on September 17 was to get him fitter for what he had planned to be his next assignment, which was the Bart Cummings at Flemington, a race that carried a golden ticket into the Melbourne Cup.
But when Smokin’ Romans won the Naturalism Stakes on a heavy track he earned entry into the Caulfield Cup field.
The Bart Cummings was suddenly off the table as Maher said running him instead in the Turnbull Stakes as a final lead-in run to the Caulfield Cup was “a no-brainer” as the winner couldn’t gain a penalty for the Melbourne Cup.
Maher said he had been surprised how sharp Smokin’ Romans had been over 2000m at his past two starts.
“I’m not surprised at the level he’s gone to this prep, but the plan was always the Melbourne Cup. That’s what we’re aiming for him, but it’s been the sharpness of him over 2000m which has surprised me,” Maher said.
Maher said he was surprised that Smokin’ Romans started at $21 in the Turnbull Stakes, but thought that was due to the weight scale.
Maher is heading into the Caulfield Cup with a good degree of confidence with Smokin’ Romans as he said 2400m would be his best distance.
“The ease of his last-start win showed how well he’s going. Also, there’s the old cliche that we’ve beaten the handicapper as he gets in with a lovely weight,” he said.
Maher said barrier five was ideal for Smokin’ Romans, who will be ridden by champion jockey Jamie Kah and will carry only 51.5 kilograms.
“He makes his own luck. He’ll take up a forward position, probably behind Knight’s Order who will come across and lead,” he said.
“He’s had a very smooth campaign and his work on Tuesday was fantastic. I’ve been basically backing off him all prep as he’s a happy and fit horse.”
Maher won the Caulfield Cup in 2016 with Jameka, who finished second in the Turnbull Stakes in her lead race to the Caulfield Cup.
Maher and co-trainer David Eustace also have the top weight in the Caulfield Cup, the former French galloper Gold Trip, who finished fifth behind Smokin’ Romans in the Turnbull Stakes and is a $13 chance with PointsBet.
Maher is also bullish about his prospects in the Caulfield Cup on a wet track.
“When we bought him, if you said you’re going to run in a $5 million race on a heavy track over 2400 you’d be tickled pink,” he said.
“He’s had two solid 2000m runs. He improved from his first run into his second run and he didn’t have any luck the other day on top of the ground. Jamie [Kah] said he felt great. He’s ready to run a big race. ”
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