Cradle Mountain will be out to post his first black-type win in the Winter Challenge at Rosehill.
Clare Cunningham has learned a lot about Cradle Mountain this preparation and while the campaign hasn’t gone to script, she wouldn’t have it any other way.
Expectations for the five-year-old were high after he underlined his promise with back-to-back wins last spring and a placing at his first attempt at stakes level.
But after an unplaced first-up effort over 1100 metres at Randwick in May followed by a midfield performance over 1200 metres when he struggled to handle a heavy track, the jury was out.
Cunningham took it as an opportunity to challenge the horse, and herself.
She stepped him up to 1400 metres for the first time in the Winter Stakes and Cradle Mountain performed admirably despite striking another unsuitable wet track, finishing fourth and less than a length from Group One performer Eckstein.
That effort has given the trainer confidence to raise the distance bar again to 1500 metres in Saturday’s Listed Winter Challenge at Rosehill.
“I thought it was the right prep to find out a bit more about him,” Cunningham said.
“Last start was his first time over 1400, we thought he really enjoyed that distance and he gives us the indication he’ll enjoy even further.
“I hadn’t had a reason to try that in the past, the type of preparation we’ve been having it’s worth trying it now and finding out his scope and how far he’ll get.”
The other appeal of a distance rise relates to Cradle Mountain’s racing pattern.
At each of his six wins he has led, and while Cunningham began this preparation keen to see him settle behind the speed, she concedes his best efforts have been when he can bowl along in front, a role that might be easier to assume over a longer journey.
“Previously, I was talking about taking a sit on him but that’s probably something else I’ve still got to learn, if he is a horse that can take a sit,” she said.
“At the moment he seems to enjoy when he rolls along and we’ll go out with the mindset of having him roll at his happy pace.”
Cunningham won’t be at Rosehill to watch Cradle Mountain.
She and partner Jason Collett, the horse’s regular rider, are taking a short holiday.
“Cradle Mountain wasn’t meant to be in work at this time when we were planning our holiday but I couldn’t tip him out, he was recovering too well and I had no reason for him to be going to the paddock,” Cunningham said.
“I’ll look forward to turning my phone on in Vietnam and seeing how he’s run.”