By MIKE DILLON
Damien Oliver says riding Kiwi mare Pravda is like pushing a wheelbarrow full of bricks.
Australia's outstanding jockey made the observation after winning Saturday's $A75,000 Manion Cup at Rosehill on Saturday.
Pravda was making her Australian debut and Oliver had to work hard on her when she looked to be struggling on the home bend after enjoying a beautiful trip behind the leaders on the rail.
In the last 100m Pravda proved too strong.
"It's just like pushing bricks," said Oliver.
"You struggle and struggle on the uphill slope and think you're going nowhere, then suddenly you hit the downwards slope."
Bookmakers reacted to the heavily-backed victory by slashing Pravda's odds from 25-1 to 12-1 for the $A800,000 Sydney Cup, for which Oliver is already booked for fellow New Zealand mare Showella.
The Zabeel 4-year-old is a sister to Adelaide Cup winner Cronus and to the $1.5 million yearling bought by Bart Cummings at Karaka in January this year.
Pravda is owned by New Zealand's chief justice Dame Sian Elias in partnership with Alan Galbraith, QC, and Bill Wilson, QC, as well as Dame Sian's husband Hugh Fletcher.
"Pravda was purchased for $60,000 before Cronus really got going, but she was a lovely yearling," said Dame Sian.
"We've been racing horses for 15 or 20 years and our biggest thrill so far is winning the Villiers Stakes at Randwick with Arletty."
Pravda arrived at trainer Paul O'Sullivan's Randwick base on Tuesday.
O'Sullivan said from Sydney yesterday he would target the $A500,000 group three Chairman's Handicap (2400m) at Randwick on April 22 before committing the mare to the Sydney Cup.
Sydney handicapper Mark Webbey said yesterday Pravda is almost certain to be given a 1kg re-handicap on her Sydney Cup weighting of 49kg.
If things went right for the O'Sullivan stable at Rosehill, at Tauranga they could not have gone more horribly wrong. The testing, rain- affected footing saw the stable go home winless.
"I thought we'd win four races," said stable rider Lance O'Sul- livan.
Hugely talented juvenile Diamond Cashel struggled into third in the heavy ground, Kasman walked into fourth, Gas and Prince William were late scratchings and classy 3-year-old Panorama finished sixth and pulled up with a leg problem which could be serious.
The up side was that Diamond Cashel impressed Lance O'Sullivan as much as when making a winning debut by a wide margin at her previous start and Bawalaksana fought extremely hard for third to Cinder Bella in the $100,000 Japan/ New Zealand Trophy, suggesting he may yet recapture his best form.
"Diamond Cashel's run was huge," said O'Sullivan. "Any other horse would have run last.
"She is going to be very competitive in the Ellerslie Sires' Produce Stakes, provided she strikes reasonable footing."
A late nomination fee may be paid for the $120,000 Ford Sires' Produce for Hurricane Strike after the filly gave rookie trainer Chris Gibbs a thrill winning the $20,000 Ultimate Motor Group on Satur- day.
"I knew she'd handle the conditions," said Gibbs, "and if she got the same sort of footing at Ellerslie she might be a threat."
Hurricane Strike was under severe pressure with 100m to run on Saturday and had to dig very deep to hold on.
Any thoughts Bawalaksana will not see out 1600m properly were extinguished on Saturday.
"I was really chuffed with his effort," said Lance O'Sullivan. "He really fought hard to the line in what was more like a 2000m race.
"I know if the track had been reasonable it would have brought a few others into contention, but on those conditions he'd have gone close to winning."
By MIKE DILLON