Running on for a commendable fourth in his season-ending tilt in the Group 1 Kingston Town Classic (1800m) at Ascot Racecourse over the weekend, trainer Wez Hunter has revealed the featured Group 1 Stradbroke Handicap (1400m) continues to figure as the major target for talented gelding Smokin’ Joey upon returning to racing in 2015.
Jumping from the gates well in the Kingston Town Classic, jockey Ben Melham immediately settled Smokin’ Joey towards the rear of the capacity field of 16; receiving an ideal run in transit before displaying an exceptional turn of foot to finish less-than three lengths off the pace of winner Moriarty, in what was his maiden appearance over 1800m.
Revealing the Encosta De Lago gelding’s connections are interested in pushing the seven-year-old out to 2000m over his 2015 autumn and winter campaign, Hunter remains adamant the Group 1 winner over 1200m remains a short course specialist and believes the $2 million 2015 Stradbroke Handicap figures as the perfect target.
“He’s definitely better when he’s got a little bit of room and he’s trying to stride out in amongst them; we probably didn’t get a true guide but Ben (Melham) thought he was strong to line,” Hunter told Racing Victoria
“I think the run he got was a definite advantage but when you really want to wind him up and let him go you’re better off coming from down the outside, but that’s not potting the ride at all, he’s just a big horse and needs a bit of room, that’s all.
“In the back of my mind I say he’s won a Group 1 over 1200 and why try and stretch him out but he’s run really consistently and really well.
“I’m not 100 per cent convinced (he will make 2000m) but never say never.
“That (2015 Stradbroke Handicap) will be his running goal next prep; we’ll just plan a little a course back from that.”
Securing a commendable record of six wins and a further seven minor places from his 45 competitive starts so far, Smokin’ Joey steadily built to the task over autumn this year; failing to beat a single runner home in the Listed Super Saturday Stakes (1400m), running third in the Macaulay Handicap (1400m) and sixth in the Group 3 Victoria Handicap (1400m) before breaking through for a maiden victory at the highest level of racing in the Group 1 The Goodwood (1200m) on May 10th; returning to the paddock following a credible eighth in the Stradbroke Handicap in early June.