There were plenty of factors that could have been blamed for defeat when McLaren (Exceed And Excel) was sent around dominant favourite in Saturday's G3 Canonbury S. but connections were heartened when the zippy 2-year-old overcame them all to score on debut.
On a humid Sydney day McLaren was warm as well and jig-jogged his way through a sweaty pre-race parade, had a plate re-shod behind the gates and then jumped fast, straight into a duel for the lead with fellow speedster Exceed The Stars (Star Witness).
McLaren had won all three of his trials, the last of them by seven lengths on a sodden track, but a soft 7-rated surface at Rosehill threw another variable into the mix.
Significant improvement ahead
Despite all of that the Peter and Paul Snowden-trained colt, the latest of the Newgate SF, China Horse Club, Winstar Farm 2-year-olds to hit the track, was able to score by a length, showing sufficient polish to put himself into G1 Golden Slipper contention.
"He will improve out of that and that's the most exciting part," Newgate's Henry Field said post-race. "He is lightning fast, but he is still unseasoned and does a far bit wrong, including getting a bit hot pre-race, but if he can go to another level mentally over the next seven weeks that means there is still a lot of improvement there."
"He is lightning fast, but he is still unseasoned and does a far bit wrong." - Henry Field
Peter Snowden was also looking at the upside of what is "clearly a very talented horse."
"It was good to get that done, but there was a lot of room for improvement there, he did a few things you don't want to see them do, but look, he has got talent," he said. "I am being picky, but you have to be at this level and hopefully there are a few things we can improve on."
Those pre-race jitters were the chief concern, albeit not a surprising one for Snowden heading into the colt's debut.
"He was pretty revvy in the mounting yard and sweated up a wee bit, you want to see them come in here relaxed, go to the gates well with no nervous energy wasted," Snowden said. "That stuff can be a killer and can bring good horses undone, getting wound up. He wasn't too bad, but you want to see him better next start."
Snowden was pleased with how McLaren was able to ease the revs after jumping fast, the colt racing tractably after jockey James McDonald asked him to idle behind the freewheeling leader.
"What I did like was that he began well, he was going to get going keenly and he came back and backed off," he said. "I am glad James gave him an opportunity to do that. He did that very well so that is a big plus. He is only a young horse at his first start, you can't do anymore than win and he has done that today."
"He is a real racehorse and does everything well out there," McDonald said. "The pace was solid, he was able to get into a rhythm and finish off. He's a nice horse."
On track for the slipper
It is now the Snowdens job to keep McLaren on track for the seven weeks between now and the G1 Golden Slipper on March 23.
"What we do now will all depend on the horse, we will see how he comes through the run, he is not a gross horse, but looking at him he might need more racing to get him settled and relaxed a bit more," Snowden said.
"He is an exciting colt, what he does at home is really good. I only let him go once and that was enough for me, I saw what he could do, up until the trial the other day I hadn't clicked him up again. We've seen what he has, we have just got to learn how to harness it and save it for when we need it."
Running into second from back in the field on debut was Team Hawkes-trained Spring Loaded (Redoute's Choice), jockey Tommy Berry suggesting the big colt will improve on top of the ground.
"He is a lovely horse but just on that ground I had to hold off going at him because I needed him to balance up first," he said. "When he did, his last furlong was great."
Spring Loaded, a $750,000 buy at last year's Gold Coast Magic Millions Yearling Sale, has a full brother in the Arrowfield draft for this year's Australian Easter Yearling Sale (Lot 315).