ONLY two of Western Australia’s eight Group races have eluded Paul Stuart; Friday night’s Group 3 Greyhounds WA Mandurah Cup and the Group 2 WA Oaks.
Stuart’s best finish in the Mandurah Cup came in 2013 when his Perth Cup and Topgun hero Dyna Nalin was runner-up, but he has two excellent chances of finally crossing the Cup off his feature race wish list on Friday.
Stuart will have two homebred finalists after claiming a double in last Friday’s heats courtesy of half-brothers Gold Reserve and Astrozone.
Both are sons of Stuart’s wonderful producer Starlight Delly, a regally related Bombastic Shiraz – Winsome Bluebird litter sister to his former champion stayer Miata, with Gold Reserve being by Brett Lee and Astrozone by Cosmic Rumble.
“I haven’t been able to win the Mandurah Cup or the Oaks yet, so hopefully it’ll be one down and one to go after Friday night!” Stuart laughed.
Astrozone came into the Mandurah Cup series after claiming a deserved feature race breakthrough in the lucrative WA Bred Championship over 520m at Cannington the previous Saturday.
Astrozone, which finished fifth in the Group 1 Perth Cup as favourite, second in the Group 3 Ambrosoli Golden Easter Egg Consolation and sixth in last year’s Group 3 Young Stars Classic, dominated betting on the first of four heats.
The $1.50 favourite from box eight, Astrozone worked hard from his outside alley and dug deep to run down leader Desert Rampage in the shadows of the post, scoring by a head in 27.48, his 19th win from 36 starts.
“I thought Astrozone was super,” Stuart said.
“He had an unsuitable box and the one dog (Tuxedo Black) was leaning on him the whole way. I thought he was in strife but he kept grinding. It was really pleasing because six months ago he wouldn’t have tried from out wide.
“He started off really well, winning 12 of his first 13 starts, but then he lost his way a bit and was pretty disappointing. He wouldn’t go around dogs, which cost him The Ambrosoli over in Sydney, but over the last couple of months he’s found his feet again.”
Stuart then claimed a heat-to-heat double when Astrozone’s ‘big brother’ Gold Reserve won the second run-off in sensational fashion, leading throughout in a near-record 27.10 as he trounced West On Maisie by 6.25 lengths.
It was Gold Reserve’s fifth win from seven starts over 490m at Mandurah and just .02 outside Back Jack Tewin’s course record.
“Gold Reserve’s been going really well since coming back from a spell about three months ago and he’s got a very good record at Mandurah,” Stuart offered.
“He can run 600m so when he jumped on the arm they were never going to run him down.”
Astrozone has drawn well in box two for the $25,000 to-the-winner Cup, while Stuart isn’t perturbed with Gold Reserve being allocated box five.
“I think Gold Reserve is well-drawn,” Stuart said.
“It’s pretty ideal because he’ll go straight out of the boxes and for him to have a chance of winning the race he’s going to have to come out running like he did last week anyway.
“Astrozone didn’t go as fast as Gold Reserve in the heats but I thought he was just as impressive. He’s really well suited in two, but the only question mark is the dog in the red, Neil Monelli, because he can begin on occasions and he goes hard right.
“Gold Reserve was just outside the record in his heat and earlier in the year Astrozone ran 29.09, which is only .01 outside the record. If either of them can lead it will be all over and I’m not worried which one wins, because I own them both!”