Racing: Xtravagant the winner on looks

By Mike Dillon

However star Kiwi sprinter faces a formidable task when he clashes with locals down the straight six today.
The best looking bloke at Flemington tomorrow Xtravagant will look even prettier to his fans should he win the Bobby Lewis Handicap. Picture / Nick Reed
The best looking bloke at Flemington tomorrow Xtravagant will look even prettier to his fans should he win the Bobby Lewis Handicap. Picture / Nick Reed

Flemington today, which officially kicks off Melbourne's Spring Carnival, is "Sofitel Girls' Day Out" and we all know what that means.

Where the girls go, the boys follow and the best looking bloke at famous Flemington this afternoon will be a Kiwi - Xtravagant.

The handsome entire begins his 4-year-old career in the A$200,000 Bobby Lewis and the pressure is on. As some sage said long ago: "Handsome is [only] as handsome does", and Xtravagant is out to prove his eighth in the Australian Guineas in March at his only previous transtasman start is not a true measure of his ability.

Interestingly, he will be racing on the same strip of Flemington turf that saw him capitulate after leading in March.

Co-trainer Stephen Autridge told the Herald yesterday from Melbourne that he was not hugely confident. "He's very good at the moment, probably a fraction too good at this level.

"Damien Oliver rode him in a gallop this week and said he pulled up very well." Because he has been left entire for an eventual stud career, Xtravagant has been excitable when taken to the track.

"He's a lot better now and as a result we've been mixing him around others horses more than we used to do.

"He'll get a bit excited when he gets to the track tomorrow, but he's a lot better than he used to be."

The Bobby Lewis is run down Flemington's famous straight 1200m, which will be something entirely new for Xtravagant.

Autridge is not as worried by the new experience as he is over whether Xtravagant will relax when Oliver attempts to restrain him behind horses for at least the first half of the race.

"All the form experts I've spoken to say there is almost no real pace in the race and that is a concern."

Oliver's strength and huge experience will play a big part.

Melbourne was forecast to experience a storm Thursday night, but it did not eventuate and the heavy rain in southern Victoria yesterday was mostly north of Flemington.

"The footing here at Flemington at the moment would be firm," said Autridge. The track manager said the track could safely take 10mm of rain without making much difference. Flemington is without doubt the best drying grass track in this part of the world.

Cambridge trainer Stephen Marsh was hoping for the predicted rain for his mare Sophia Rosa in the A$500,000 Makybe Diva Stakes after her get-back unplaced run in her Melbourne debut.

"Oh well, it is what it is," said Marsh as he arrived in Melbourne at mid-day. "The bigger track at Flemington after a tight run around Caulfield will help and she's definitely gone ahead since that Caulfield race.

"She is also a lot settled in her demeanour this time around. She's still diabolical, but manageable."

The hot favourite for the Makybe Diva as the Darren Weir-trained Black Hart Bart, who will probably shorten even further with the prospect of a dry track. Damien Oliver is on the former Western Australian.

On the TAB on both sides of the Tasman, Xtravagant is a firm $5 third favourite behind joint favourites Under The Louvre and Kinglike.

"The form experts I've talked to believe Faatinah will be one of the hardest to beat," said Stephen Autridge. Faatinah is trained by the Hayes/Dabernig partners.

- NZ Herald

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