Pass Mark Facing Acid Test In The Sandown Cup

Trainer Jeff Britton is optimistic that his progressive stayer Pass Mark will rise to the challenge when he steps out in a heat of the Sandown Cup on Thursday night.

THERE'LL be no excuses for Pass Mark when the exciting young Victorian stayer faces a baptism of feature race fire in Thursday night's Group 1 Sandown Cup heats (715m).

After winning Australia's most coveted staying race in 2023 with Korda, Jeff Britton is eyeing back-to-back titles with Pass Mark, winner of seven of his last eight starts.

Unbeaten in two 715m assignments at Sandown Park, Pass Mark has drawn box three in the first of four Cup heats, where Group 1 winner Ritza Piper is $2.60 favourite.

"It's a bit of an unknown because he hasn't raced against these topliners before," Britton said.

"This is his first test against Group class dogs and while he hasn't run any superstar times, he's just done everything right and that's all you can ask.

"He's very clean-winded and pulls up really well after his races, which is a bit unusual for me.

"I normally have front-running stayers that can take a bit to back up, so it certainly makes it a lot easier to train them.

"His preparation has been injury free and he's got a lot of runs under his belt, so there's no excuses."

A March ‘22 son of Fernando Bale and My Girl Kizzy, Pass Mark shares the second line of heat betting at $3.40 with another rising star in Unreal Speed, winner of seven from 10 for Jeff Britton's brother Robert.

"I didn't really want to run into Robert's dog," Britton quipped.

Pass Mark's career to date can be divided into two distinct – and starkly contrasting – phases.

He won only one of his first 12 starts, from 400m up to 525m, albeit running six minor placings.

But since stepping up to middle and staying distances, he's reeled off eight wins from his next 10.

"What happened was I always thought he'd win his Grade 6 and 7 in town and if you're running placings you're still earning good money," Britton said.

"But I got sick of the unlucky runs and thought I'd better put him up in distance.

"The form turnaround is amazing once you get away from those sprinters.

"Since then he's handled everything that's been put in front of him. He's kept pulling up well and running it out."


Britton has a second Sandown Cup aspirant in Mepunga Loaf, very much in commission at $4.80 in the final heat, while partner Angela Langton has $7 chance Osprey Athena, a finalist in last year's Cup, contesting the second runoff.

"Mepunga Loaf has had injury problems and had a bit of time off," Britton said.

"He runs it out well too and he's a lightly raced dog, so I expect him to keep improving with more runs under his belt."

The Britton family boasts a phenomenal record in the Sandown Cup.

Jeff's father Allan won the race in 1997 with Tonight's Wish, as have sister Linda (Jennev – 2002) and brother Robert (Fanta Bale – 2017 and Tornado Tears – 2018).

Jeff Britton is also taking aim at a second Group 1 Sapphire Crown title at Thursday's bumper meeting, having won the female feature with Oakvale Destiny in 2014.

Britton is attempting to spring a Sapphire surprise with $26 outsider Mackinaw Peach (box 3).

"She's been very inconsistent with her jumping," he said.

"She did run 5.05 last week, so we're hoping she might fluke it again and if you're in front you're some sort of chance."

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