Racing: Mourinho team hopes lightning can strike twice in same place

These days the Gelagotis brothers from Moe are so often seen in the mounting yard and for group and listed races that it hardly seems appropriate to continue referring to them as the battlers from the bush.

That is how trainer Peter and stable manager and media go-to man Manny might have started out, but over the years they have steadily increased the quality of their stock and the pair have proved that if the horse is good enough, so are they, and their Gippsland location is no barrier to success.

No galloper has raised their reputation as much as stable favourite Mourinho, the eight-year-old greybeard who, if anything, is getting better as he gets older.

The son of Coolmore-raced Oratorio is highly effective between 1400 metres and 2000m, a distance his sire excelled at.

But he is also a handy horse over shorter trips when fresh, as he showed last year when he sprang a $31 surprise in upsetting the odds laid on Dissident to take out the 1200m Jeep Australia Stakes, a group 2 event at Moonee Valley.

The Australia Stakes is the first big race of the Melbourne summer/autumn carnival and Mourinho will back up once more at the Valley, a track he has a tremendous record at, to try to go back-to-back on Saturday.

This year’s field, boasting several group 1 winners (including Mourinho) looks on paper a lot hotter than the one he beat last season.

But bookmakers are taking no chances with the Gelagotis contender, and he is posted around the $9 mark despite the fact it will be his first racecourse appearance since he ran down the track behind Winx in the Cox Plate last October.

Mourinho’s chances were compromised badly by his bad draw that day, but the way the Chris Waller-trained mare scooted around the bend and went away from a top field meant he would not have beaten her anyway.

This time round he has a much more favourable alley, jumping from stall two.

Partnered again by now regular rider Vlad Duric (who was aboard when Mourinho won this race last season and also when he won the group 2 PB Lawrence Stakes and the group 1 Underwood Stakes at Caulfield in 2015) Manny Gelagotis is hoping Mourinho’s good fresh record, liking for the Valley – where he has won five times and placed on another three occasions from 13 starts – will ensure he is competitive on Saturday.

“He won it well last year but the race does seem to have a lot more depth this time in,” says Gelagotis.

“He loves the track and he excels fresh. We have not publicly trialled him because he has been in work a week longer before this race this year. But it is a more competitive race with, on paper, anyway, a stronger field.”

It’s hard to disagree.

The racebook is headed by Rebel Dane, a hardy warrior who is a group 1 winner and who is competitive in virtually all the top sprints every season.

Hucklebuck, from the South Australian stable of Phillip Stokes, is another who has won at the highest level having taken out the Emirates Stakes in 2014, as is Darren Weir’s Trust In A Gust, the hero of the 2014 Sir Rupert Clarke Stakes and Toorak Handicap, both fiercely competitive group 1s run during the spring carnival.

Still, old Mourinho goes into the contest as the horse with the highest official rating (112), two points more than Rebel Dane and Trust In A Gust, and four more than Hucklebuck.

The well-fancied improver Durendal is stepping up to this open-class group level for the first time, and a measure of the gulf he has to close is that he is officially rated at 98 going into this event, a stone in old-fashioned terms below Mourinho. He will have to carry the same weight as the established stars, although the fact the Matthew Ellerton/Simon Zahra-trained runner is fit, in form and a specialist short-course horse stands in his favour.

Gelagotis says that whatever Mourinho does on Saturday he will only show more at his next scheduled start, in the 1400m CF Orr Stakes at Caulfield – a group 1 in February – and then at the same track over 1800m in the Peter Young Stakes.

“It’s a beautiful surface for him there at the Valley and he will derive a lot of benefit from the outing. It’s a great kick-off point as we head to longer races with him. Until last year we had never run him below 1400m and he won here, so you never know.

“After the Orr he will go to the Peter Young Stakes and defend his title there [that was another group 2 contest Mourinho won in 2015] and then we will make a decision on whether to target the Australian Cup at Flemington, or head north to the championships.”

Ground may be the determining factor. If Flemington comes up fast for the Australian Cup weekend then the Gelagotis team might feel it has little option but to head to Sydney, where ground conditions are often softer.

“We want to be sensible and only go where we think we can win. It does look like Winx might have his measure at the moment, but if Flemington is too hard we won’t be scared to go to Sydney.”

Team Gelagotis has also been entrusted with the care of star Tasmanian galloper The Cleaner, controversially removed late last year from his long-time handler Mick Burles.

Gelagotis says The Cleaner is in light work at the moment but that his trainer, brother Peter, is determined to give the eight-year-old – another front-running Moonee Valley specialist in the Mourinho mould – a long spell before bringing him back for a tilt at the top 1600-2000m events next spring.

“Peter wants to bring him back 100 per cent. He wants no excuses, and wants to do it his way.”

This story Administrator ready to work first appeared on Nanjing Night Net.

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