New Zealand trainer Craig Phelan has come to Victoria with a plan he hopes culminates in Pakenham Cup success.
Our Big Mike lines up in Saturday’s race having his first try at 2500m with Noel Callow replacing Michael Dee in the saddle.
The gelding worked his way up the ladder in New Zealand, finishing sixth at Group One level in October, before Phelan decided to target country Cups in Victoria.
Our Big Mike finished third in the Kyneton Cup on November 7 then third again in his final Pakenham Cup hit-out at Moonee Valley last Saturday.
“We backed off after the Group One with him in New Zealand,” Phelan said.
“There was nothing really for him back home and all of the horses that he’d been racing against over there had performed well over here or were doing quite well back in New Zealand.
“We decided to come over and have a try at some of these country meetings, apart from Moonee Valley, and we’ve been happy with how he’s gone.
“He’s paid for his trip so far, so anything he gets from now on in is a bonus.”
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Phelan doesn’t see the rise in distance to 2500m a concern on Saturday with Our Big Mike’s longest previous race 2200m when fifth at Ellerslie 12 months ago.
“He’s always suggested he wants more ground,” Phelan said.
“He keeps rolling at that one pace. He’s got a high cruising speed.”
While Phelan has been backwards and forwards across the Tasman checking on the home team, the trip to Victoria has been beneficial for his son Shaun and his partner Emily Farr.
Each has ridden in recent highweight flat races for jumps jockeys and both had rides in last Sunday’s Jericho Cup.
“It’s opened their eyes a bit and ticked off a few things they wanted to do,” Phelan said.
“Emily came over thinking she’d be looking after Big Mike and ride a bit of work.
“But Steven Pateman gave her a push and said there was a lack of highweight riders and the good old Aussies pushed her application through.
“She finished second in two distance races at Warrnambool on Sunday, including the Jericho Cup on Crafty Cruiser.”