For a superstar used to winning, a placing is not usually a pass mark, but it just might be for Kiwi glamour boy Catalyst in the A$500,000 The Shorts at Randwick in Sydney today.
The domestic racing sensation of last season returns to kick off his 4-year-old career against some of Sydney's sprinting elite over 1100m, a distance he has never raced.
In New Zealand against our sprinters, Catalyst would be a hot favourite to get away with racing short of his best, but sprinting is what they do best in Sydney, and even if the local crop of older sprinters isn't vintage, they are incredibly hard to beat at jump and run racing.
So today, Catalyst finds himself at a very early fork in the road: Win, and he will almost certainly get a slot in next month's A$15 million Everest. Lose, and he heads down a path toward the A$7.5 million Golden Eagle on October 31.
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Catalyst oozes X-factor and has already proven in Melbourne last February he can match it with Australia's big boys. But fresh-up with one trial under his belt, he could find things happen a lot faster than he is used to today. So if he settles handy on the fence from the ace, the gaps come at the right time and he produces his best, he can win without surprising anybody.
But if he gets out of his ground — he hasn't always been the fastest out of the gates — and gets run off his feet until closing well the last 200m, that wouldn't surprise anybody either.
"We are happy with the horse but we don't know what to expect," says trainer Clayton Chipperfield, who has been overseeing Catalyst's preparation from afar because of Covid-19 quarantine restrictions which stopped him crossing the Tasman.
"The reports are good on the horse and Glen [Boss] has been happy the couple of times he has ridden him. To me, he is still on a Golden Eagle campaign and that is what we are thinking of first and foremost. But if he comes out here and goes huge, which he could, and we get some interest from an Everest slot holder, then yes, we could end up heading there. So a lot hangs on today."
There are six spots left in the supersonic sprint and it would be wonderful for the New Zealand industry to have its first runner in the much-hyped race.
Catalyst won't be asked to fly the Kiwi flag alone today, as Probabeel has been heavily backed to win the Bill Ritchie, her final lead-up to the Epsom in two weeks, while Verry Elleegant is the hot favourite for today's other feature, the George Main.