New Zealand's best racehorse Probabeel is going to get another shot at Zaaki to test her Cox Plate credentials.
The multi-million-dollar mare was second to Zaaki in the A$1 million Underwood at Sandown on Saturday, and while owner Brendan Lindsay is not giving up on Australasia's greatest weight-for-age race yet, he also isn't interested in going to the Cox Plate to make up numbers.
So Lindsay and wife Jo will give Probabeel another crack at Zaaki and possibly Verry Elleegant in the Caulfield Stakes in 12 days, then make the biggest call of their spring.
"We were very proud of her on Saturday, especially the way she backed up at 1800m a week after starting in a Group 1 1400m," says Lindsay, principal of Cambridge Stud. "But she was beaten fair and square, and Zaaki might be the best weight-for-age horse going around and Verry Elleegant might be the second best.
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"So we will give her a shot at the Caulfield Stakes against those two and, just as importantly, over 2000m, and that should tell us whether we press on to the Cox Plate."
The question mark over the Cox Plate not only comes because of the Zaaki defeat but because the 2040m may be right at the end of Probabeel's range, even though she was excellent in the Cox last year on a track wetter than she prefers. While it would be tempting to roll the dice in the Cox again, an easier option would be the A$1 million Empire Rose at Flemington over 1600m at weight-for-age for mares a week later.
"We have to think very seriously about the Empire Rose and it is the other obvious choice but I don't see her starting in both. Another factor could also be the weather, with the long-range forecast for the week leading into each race another thing we might factor in. But we don't need to rush into a decision, the Caulfield Stakes should tell us plenty."
Probabeel is rated $17 with the TAB for the Cox Plate but a $6 favourite in the Empire Rose.
The Lindsays also had to settle for second with their high-class 3-year-old filly Zouzarella at Sandown on Saturday but she is still the favourite for the 1000 Guineas at Caulfield, with victory in that classic a dream result for any commercial breeder.
"She ran on really well and she is a wonderful filly, so hopefully she peaks for the Guineas," says Lindsay.
They had no luck with last season's leading NZ juvenile Sword Of State when he was trapped three wide in his comeback race in Sydney on Saturday. But he showed enough fight under his 60kg topweight to suggest he is at least interested in his spring campaign, not always a given with colts returning from dominant juvenile seasons.