Shelley Hale's decision to nominate champion horse Close Up just before the deadline this week wasn't just an afterthought to tack him to the field of 16 on the way to visualising victory at the birdcage in Hastings today.

No, Hale actually engaged in some serious forethought, purposefully ticking boxes along the way on the 8-year-old gelding after brainstorming with her adept jockey, Grant Cooksley, to enter the $250,000 group one Livamol Classic at 4.50pm.

Okay she did sit "on our hands a bit" on the nomination of the final leg of the New Zealand Spring Racing Carnival trilogy to avoid having to fork out $1500 immediately because of all the variables pertaining to the horse but that was more a precautionary measure than an afterthought.

"With horses anything can go wrong with the tick of a clock," the Cambridge trainer explains.


During that phase it has been all been about ticking a few boxes on the check sheet of equine appraisal.

How Close Up came through in the group 1 Windsor Park Plate a fortnight ago, finishing a short neck behind winner Gingernuts, spoke volumes.

"I guess we went into it [Windsor Park Plate] in a similar way in which we're going into this one [Livamol Classic]," she says.

However, Hale says she was pretty confident Close Up was "going to see a mile out".

Gingernuts, who Stephen Autridge and Jamie Richards co-train, is the favourite today as a genuine stayer adept at closing in wide out from barrier 17.

That Cooksley feels Close Up is savvy enough to make the transition from the 1600m plate to the 2040m classic is something Hale needed to reconcile as well.

The jury didn't take long to deliberate on that one to return with a verdict of yes but what is 440m more in the scheme of things for a horse who won the first leg of the trilogy, the group 1 Tarzino Trophy over 1400m, in Hastings?

"It is a real test for him. We're relying on him that he is quite a solid fit because he's had quite a bit of racing," says Hale after Close Up snuck in on the morning of the Tarzino Trophy as an $18 outsider when connections of Stolen Dance decided to scratch in reaction to the heavy track to pave the way for a fairytale weight-for-age victory on September 2.


Again, significantly, Close Up was the first cab off the rank of four horses on the ballot through sheer foresight although Hale did temper her confidence to make the cut that morning to "the luck of the gods" for her maiden Group One bragging rights.

For today's entry Hale and 57-year-old Cooksley went a step further in trying to meticulously decipher the horse's genetic map with enough reassurance that they were making the correct assumptions although the racing savvy will tell you nothing's a given in the industry.

"He's got some full brothers who have run over that distance and up to 2400m."

So while the horse's siblings were stayers is Close Up a late bloomer?

"Well, he just hasn't had the opportunity to get off the ground because he's only ever had short runs and then he's got injured so he's had to go out."

Because Close Up hasn't had any jarring issues over winter, Hale feels if he is ever going to flirt with the 2000m mark, today's classic is it.

In thoroughbred racing utopia, she is banking on a dead 4-6 track but if it firms up due to warmer, drier spring conditions setting in here the trainer reckons her horse will cope although week-in, week-out racing on resolute tracks isn't advisable.

The 1700m left-hand track, with a straight 375m stretch, was a good 3 yesterday but trainers will be mindful its rating pertains to coming out of winter as opposed to a dry summer, one that has been tailored with the use of sprinklers. About 0.2mm of rain is forecast from 2pm today until 10pm.

"He's got no chance of jarring up with the way the track has been so I'm not too worried about the conditions although we would have preferred better tracks for the two earlier races there."

The affirmation on the horse's conditioning came as early as the Tarzino Trophy crown she understands why it's easy for many to overlook him.

"He's probably always been underrated horse but if you look at his strike rate - you know, 30 starts for 10 wins - it's pretty good."

Hale realises people must think if Close Up is going to mutate into a stayer than he should have done it much earlier.

"For one reason or other we haven't been able to get much more racing into him so he hasn't had the opportunity but this time it's all worked out."

While the veterinarian had delivered an epitaph of sorts for Close Up 18 months ago, the horse has responded to nurturing to win $350,000 in prizemoney for his co-owners/breeders, Hale, the Noel and Alison Johnstone Family Trust and Robin Stent.

Hale hastens to add she's no gambler but recognises the classic field is a little different to the other two.

Gingernuts and Close Up are proven as weight-for-age contenders whereas the remaining contenders aren't but she isn't losing sleep over that.

"I'm not a great student of punting and what not but you'd think he's done it twice now so people might be taking a bit more notice of him now."

Hale is quite comfortable to see how the market factors behave in response to Close Up by the time Cooksley coaxes him into the starting gate today.

She chuckles when asked if Cooksley's decision to postpone his week-long family holiday travel plans to Thailand also constituted part of the discussion.

"He said the horse is going to run in Hastings and I'm going to be on it ... so he offered that up," she says, taking that as further endorsement from the jockey's commitment of what the horse's potential is.

Cooksley, who goes in the racing circles by the nickname of "Iceman", has reportedly alluded to how Close Up would have been harder to beat in the Windsor Park Plate had he drawn a kinder barrier.

"We raced well off the rails and were pushed out into wasted ground so the draw just dictated that we couldn't get out of that position," says Hale of Close Up who will charge out of barrier 14 today.

"Some people perceive him to be a witch wrecker but he's not. He would have preferred to have been out on a better footing as well."

She says Close Up had stumbled a little in the back and sounded a bit rough going down the back but when the field straightened up the horse came across in search of that prime real estate.

She enters the "who knows what might have happened" territory had Close Up lived up to his name in pursuit of Gingernuts in the previous race.

On cue for his 10th start in this campaign, Hale says the $200,000 group one 1600m Captain Cook Stakes in early December beckons but more than likely he will be put out for some R&R on the paddocks after today.

She echoes similar sentiments for harbouring any thoughts of taking Close Up across to Australia.

"If you're going to take a horse to Australia you've got to have that on the radar at the start of the campaign."

For her, the first two group ones in the Bay spring carnival were the target so Livamol Classic is purely a bonus.

"I think it would be a bit foolish to try to tack anything else on him at the end of this one.
He can just spell, freshen up and look at what he might do in the autumn.

"Our big target was the Tarzino [Trophy] and, lo and behold, all that came off so in the next two races we're just lucky to come through because he's in such good order he's been able to carry on through."

Hale says anything short of sound and happy Close Up would have been put out to paddock.

"If you want to try him out over 2000m you might as well do it in a group one race while he's running hot."

The only thing she believes will trip him up will be the last 200m or so where he may stitch up.

His track work has entailed running "past the post and around" twice to simulate 2000-plus metres.

Putting faith in the horse overshadows any basic desire to make major alterations for a miraculous outcome.