ROBERT Smerdon believes preparing a well-performed galloper for Group 1 races during the spring carnival is like a football team earning a place in the top eight and then rebooting for the finals.
That’s the case with his import Noble Protector, who made a huge impression last autumn and now is preparing for a crack at either the $3 million Cox Plate or the $3.15 million Caulfield Cup.
The six-year-old mare starts her “finals campaign” in Saturday’s $200,000 Group 2 Let’s Elope Stakes (1400m).
Smerdon will let her determine her “grand final” after Saturday and, more importantly, the Group 1 Toorak Handicap (1600m) at Caulfield on October 10.
“I think she has enough tactical speed to run well first up over 1400m, although last campaign all her runs were at 1600m,” Smerdon said after Noble Protector galloped comfortably at Caulfield on Tuesday morning.
He added that those races were against mares, as will be the case on Saturday, and the competition would get hotter in the Group 1 races against the males.
“Where she goes is still debatable,” Smerdon said. “The Toorak will be the defining race. If her form warrants it she will push ahead to the big ones.
“She has been good in her trial and jumpouts. Craig Williams, who will ride her on Saturday, was pleased with her gallop last Friday.”
Smerdon said he would have to wait until race day to determine if Noble Protector had improved from last campaign.
“Her work suggests so, but only race day will tell us,” he said.
“She raced against mares only last campaign so in some ways she needs to step up if she is going to tackle all and sundry in the spring.”
Smerdon took over the mare for Qatar Bloodstock when she arrived from the UK in August, last year.
She immediately impressed when second in the Group 3 David Jones Cup (2000m) at Caulfield in October, followed by a fourth in the Group 2 Queen Elizabeth Stakes (2600m) during the Flemington carnival.
However it was her three runs during the autumn that hurled her into contention for this season’s majors.
She won the Group 3 Schweppes Trophy (1600m) at Flemington by an imposing 4.5 lengths and then headed to Sydney, where she won the Group 2 Sunline Stakes (1600m) by two lengths before finishing third on an unsuitably soft track in the Group 1 Queen Of The Turf (1600m) carrying 57kg.
She has been allotted only 51.5kg in the Caulfield Cup, to be run on October 17.
However she is more fancied in the Cox Plate, in which the 2040m is likely to be more suitable than the extra 360m of the Caulfield Cup.