While rugged Queenslander Alligator Blood may have taken out the first skirmish with classy New Zealand contender Catalyst, Kiwi trainer Clayton Chipperfield is confident his star can still win the war when the pair clash again in the Gr.1 Australian Guineas (1600m) in a fortnight.
In an enthralling length-of-the-straight battle, which more than lived up to the pre-race hype, Alligator Blood withstood the ominous challenge from Catalyst by the barest of margins in Saturday’s Gr.3 CS Hayes Stakes (1400m) at Flemington.
Chipperfield took the defeat on the chin, happy to get confirmation that the Darci Brahma gelding has what it takes to measure up to the best three-year-olds across the Tasman.
“What a race it was and although the defeat has a sting in it, we left the course on Saturday night with a big smile on our faces,” Chipperfield said.
“That race was all about finding out of he could match it with those top ones and I think we got the answer we were looking for.”
While he was happy to judge the run through his own eyes it was the feedback that he received from jockey James McDonald that has really put a spring in Chipperfield’s step.
“James came back in and was glowing in his praise for the horse,” he said.
“The first thing he said was that he was looking for the 1600m and would be an even better horse when he gets over that distance.
“He also felt he would be better with a sit where he could hook out and use his sprint to best effect.
“The way he jumped caught us a little bit by surprise and in the small field it dictated how he was positioned. It took his finishing burst out of play a little, but in a bigger field he should be able to find a position rather than doing the donkey work outside the speed.
“James gave me all that feedback after the race and even took the time to ring me again later that night which I really appreciated. He is gutted he has commitments in Sydney which means he can’t ride him next time as he is very very keen to stick with him.”
Chipperfield spent time on Sunday morning with his charge before flying home to New Zealand and was delighted with Catalyst’s powers of recovery after such a tough run.
“I had expected he might be a little knackered and off his feed but all he left on Saturday night was about two handfuls,” he said.
“He ate all his hay and drank ninety per cent of his water so I couldn’t be happier.
“We put him out in his paddock this morning (Sunday) and he was a pretty happy chappy, full of himself and showing no signs of any muscle soreness or anything like that.
“He will have a trot up on Monday and some light work before he gets serious in the week leading into the Australian Guineas which is his next target.”
While caught up in the moment on raceday Chipperfield was chuckling later in the evening as he took in all the messages of support he received after the race.
“We were cheering pretty hard in the run home and so it seems were plenty of others,” he said.
“Someone even messaged me they thought we got beaten because there were so many kiwis on him, he couldn’t carry them all.
“It’s amazing the support he does have and we hope that will continue as we are proud kiwis and want to do everyone proud.”
For racing fans, frustrated by the speedy retirement of boom colts due to lucrative stud deals, the clash of the two outstanding geldings does much to whet the appetite for future encounters, hopefully over seasons to come.
Bring on round two.