The 100th Ladbroke’s Cox Plate winner Sir Dragonet produced a lack-lustre performance on his racecourse return in Australia on Saturday.
In a race over seven furlongs, the Ciaron Maher and David Eustace co-trained son of Coolmore sire Camelot, could only manage seventh place in the Group 1 AUD $500,000 C.F. Orr Stakes, won by Streets Of Avalon.
The race was well short of his preferred mile-plus distance, considering that the Ladbrokes Cox Plate was over 1 mile 2 furlongs. A win in a high level seven furlong event could have made Sir Dragonet a more in demand stallion prospect when he heads to the breeding shed at the end of his career. Breeders would be impressed by a middle distance horse who could also win a Group 1 short of a mile, but the connections gamble failed to pay dividends.
Formerly trained by Coolmore’s retained handler in Ireland, Aidan O’Brien, the now five-year-old was a one-time Investec Epsom Derby favourite.
Last year, the bay was bought from the Coolmore partners by current principal owner Ozzie Kheir on the advice of his agent, Mathew Becker.
The horse’s finest hour on the track came when winning the AU$5 million Group 1 Cox Plate last season, ironically defeating the Aidan O’Brien-trained Coolmore partners-owned Armory by a length-and-a-half.
With his current trainers Maher and Eustace knowing prior to the C.F. Orr Stakes that the ground would be good, the former had expressed anxiety that his star may not handle the dry surface – he even considered scratching the horse from the race.
Post-race, Maher blamed the firm track at Caulfield for Sir Dragonet’s poor performance, stating:
“In the end, we were happy to run him at Caulfield but it proved just too firm for him. He’s pulled up okay.”
A look at the horse’s record would have shown his connections that Sir Dragonet had won his first two starts on soft ground when trained in Europe, before finishing fifth in the 2019 Investec Derby at Epsom, England, having started the 1m 4f contest as the favourite. Whatever doubts they had about running him last weekend, however, were likely influenced by the European-bred entire’s impressive trial victory in Geelong as part of his race preparations.
In an effort to rebuild Sir Dragonet’s reputation, Maher and Eustace will now have to step him back up in distance in the coming weeks. Options available to them are many, including the Group 1 AUD $600,000 Chipping Norton Stakes over a mile at Royal Randwick on 27 February, the Group 1 AUD $700,000 Ranvet Stakes at Rosehill Gardens on 20 March and the Group 1 AUD $2 million Queen Elizabeth Stakes at Royal Randwick on 10 April, the latter pair over an extended 1 mile 1 furlong. Both the Ranvet and Queen Elizabeth are often held on rain-affected ground, something that would be much more to the son of Camelot’s liking as he bids to show his Cox Plate victory wasn’t an Australian one-off at the highest level. With a couple of weeks between each of the three contests, it will be interesting to see if the co-trainers target all three Group 1 races.
Commenting on future plans, Maher, the four time winner of Australia’s Grand Annual Steeplechase, said:
“The Queen Elizabeth is the target and we’re pretty confident conditions will be more suitable for him there. The AUD $5 million All Star Mile (on 13 March at Moonee Valley) is still on the agenda but obviously we’ll be keeping an eye on the track condition on the day.”
With the Australian autumn racing season now underway, race conditions should be more favourable to Sir Dragonet. This is a quality-bred horse, but one that relies heavily on getting his own preferred ground conditions to show how well he can perform. The coming weeks will be crucial in determining how successful his Australian racing career will be.