The seven-year-old, who ran fourth in the 2019 Chairman’s Sprint Prize at Sha Tin, has had a near-identical preparation for Saturday’s race
Santa Ana Lane had one eye on Hong Kong ahead of his win in last year’s Group One T J Smith Stakes (1,200m) but while that isn’t the case this time around, Sam Freedman says just about everything else about the brilliant sprinter’s preparation has been identical. After racing four weeks before last year’s T J Smith Stakes, Santa Ana Lane – who will be ridden by Tim Clark in this year’s edition at Randwick on Saturday – trialled eight days out from the race. He has followed that schedule almost to a tee 12 months later, however he resumed in the Group Two Challenge Stakes (1,000m) at Randwick, finishing sixth, rather than the Group One Newmarket Handicap (1,200m) at Flemington.
“He was OK [in the Challenge Stakes], we never expect a whole lot from him first-up and 1,000m is well short of his best. He’s getting on a little bit and they’re just a bit too sharp for him over that trip,” Freedman told Australian radio station RSN. “We gave him a very big break after the spring and he just took a little while, he needed three trials before his first run and he still had a very good blow after that.
“His trial last week at Randwick was excellent, he’s had a very similar preparation to what he had last year. “He ran in the Newmarket last year first-up – he was a little bit more forward so he could run that 1,200m down the straight at his first run for the autumn and was excellent behind Sunlight.
“Then he trialled on the exact same day last year as he did last week and he had the exact same gallops this week as he did last year.
“Everything seems like it’s in exactly the same order,” Freedman added about the seven-year-old, who finished fourth behind Beat The Clock in last year’s Chairman’s Sprint Prize at Sha Tin. One thing that has changed is that the five-time Group One winner is a year older and Freedman knows Santa Ana Lane will have to be at his best to compete with the headline acts from what is an outstanding crop of three year olds. “Loving Gaby and Bivouac are obviously the fresh young horses on the scene and Santa’s like the old man among them trying to keep competing with them,” he said. “Hopefully he’s still got some Group Ones in him.”
And then there is the enigmatic Nature Strip, who looks poised to start favourite in the race but is nothing if not unpredictable. The Chris Waller-trained gelding won the Challenge Stakes, finishing the best part of five lengths ahead of Santa Ana Lane, and he was dominant in his last run over six furlongs, dismantling his rivals in the Group One VRC Sprint Classic at Flemington in November.
But the enigmatic five-year-old has his quirks and has not strung together consecutive victories since 2018. “I think if the real Nature Strip turns up he’s obviously the one to beat, but I think every horse in the field has got its pros and cons and it depends on which one turns up,” Freedman said. “You wouldn’t discount Redzel on a soft track and Loving Gaby’s been excellent.” The T J Smith Stakes is one of four Group Ones at Randwick being simulcast by the Jockey Club on Saturday, as well as the Australian Derby (2,400m), Doncaster Mile and the Sires’ Produce Stakes (1,400m).