Victorian trainer Patrick Payne fears unbeaten jumper Capecover may be running out of steam with the Grand National Hurdle still a month away.
Capecover posted his fourth win over jumps when he landed the 'Like' Caulfield Racing On Facebook Hurdle (3400m) at Sandown yesterday but Payne was concerned with how tired the rising 9-year-old looked at the finish.
"I thought he jumped a lot better today but to the eye he was pretty much out on his feet the last furlong," Payne said.
"He might be showing signs he's had enough and getting up in the weights and meeting better fields it won't be easy from now on."
Jockey Steven Pateman was fined $400 for riding Capecover 1kg overweight at 67kg.
Capecover was last early but gave Pateman a torrid ride as he pulled for more rein heading up the hill in the back straight.
He took the lead on top of the hill but in the straight Desert Master, who had been the pacemaker, rallied to make it a contest before going down by three lengths.
Australian Hurdle runner-up Famous Prince was never a winning chance and finished a half-length away third.
The anticipated battle between Capecover and Australian Hurdle winner Our Aristocrat, who was unbeaten in four starts over jumps, fizzled out with the Eric Musgrove-trained 5-year-old finishing fourth, nearly seven lengths behind the winner.
Capecover's victory sets up a showdown against reigning Australian Jumper of the Year Black And Bent in the Kevin Lafferty Hurdle (2600m) at Warrnambool on July 31 ahead of the Grand National (4000m) at Sandown on August 14.
Black And Bent returned to winning form on the flat in last Saturday's Banjo Paterson Series Final (2600m) at Flemington.
Pateman has given a commitment to ride Black And Bent at Warrnambool but said he would be just as happy to ride Capecover.
"I will talk to the connections after today, but I am happy to make a commitment to Black And Bent because he is the best jumper in Australia but I win on everything of Patrick Payne's so I owe him a lot," Pateman said yesterday.
Pateman said Capecover needed to learn to relax to ensure he had something left at the finish of his races.
"The chink in his armour is that he refuses to settle," Pateman said.
Payne and Pateman also combined for a narrow win with Kerdem in the Follow MRCtracknews on Twitter Steeplechase (3400m).
Kerdem has won four of six jump starts but Payne is worried that weight will eventually catch up with him. "It is going to be interesting because he's only a small horse and he is going to creep up in the weights with the better-quality horses coming through."
Shouldering 68kg, Kerdem scored by a half-length from last year's Grand National Steeplechase winner Morsonique.