Flying three-year-old Protege flagged rich Ascot carnival feature event starts when winning brilliantly over 1200m on Wednesday in probably the best debut of Belmont Park’s winter season.
Top apprentice jockey Holly Watson eased the Mitchell Pateman-trained gelding after taking two looks back, searching for opposition, near home and he strolled in by four lengths.
“Protege will measure up at the Ascot carnival,” Pateman said. “He’s learning all the time, after being quirky in barrier stalls education, and there’s lots of improvement in him.”
Watson, in high spirits when dismounting from Protege, said the bay exceeded her expectations under race conditions.
“The horse showed speed in trackwork, but he was outstanding today and is very exciting,” Watson said. “Though still green, he gave rivals no chance from the start.”
Protege is by former Australian star Choisir, who beat the world’s best sprinters in King’s Stand Stakes and Golden Jubilee Stakes victories at England’s Royal Ascot.
Pateman said Protege was transferred to his Ascot stable after trainer Darren McAuliffe asked him to give the three-year-old extra education.
“We’ve improved the horse’s barrier stall manners,” Pateman said. “He may soon return to Darren’s team.”
Meanwhile, classy WA mare Kissonallforcheeks has figured in a surprise transfer to Melbourne trainer Nick Ryan ahead of racing first-up in Saturday’s $200,000 Cockram Stakes (1200m) at Caulfield.
Dan Morton has trained the Railway Stakes and Kingston Town Classic placegetter from the start of her career. He won with her at Flemington last autumn.
“I’ve arranged the switch to Nick Ryan in an agreement with Kissonallforcheeks’ owners,” Morton said on Wednesday.
“It was going to be too difficult for me to fly back and forth from WA, supervising her trackwork and Melbourne spring starts.
“I’m busy here in Perth with Ascot carnival horses Alaskan God and Elite Street. We’ve also got promising three-year-olds, including Saloon Bar, who will make his debut at Belmont on Saturday.
“Nick and I will liaise on Kissonallforcheeks’ preparation. After being an Empire Rose Stakes starter at Flemington in November, she’ll fly back to Perth and I’ll resume training her.”
Kissonallforcheeks faces tough opposition on Saturday from Graceful Girl, who could deliver owners Bob and Sandra Peters a fifth Cockram Stakes victory. They have won the event with Perfect Jewel, Storm Alert, Spectrum and Petite Amour.
“We’ve had luck in this race,” Bob Peters said on Wednesday. “However, Graceful Girl will need to be at her best, with 60kg and barrier 14.”
Ladbrokes has installed the Peters-owned Western Empire at $5 favouritism, ahead of Alligator Blood ($6) in betting on Saturday’s $1 million Memsie Stakes (1400m) at Caulfield.
“Western Empire is doing well, but also drew wide, at 12,” Bob Peters said.
Damian Lane will ride Graceful Girl and Western Empire for trainer Danny O’Brien.
+ Last-start winner Nerodio was opened by Ladbrokes as a $2.15 favourite for Saturday’s $125,000 Idylllic Prince Stakes (1300m) at Belmont after acceptances on Wednesday. Next in betting were Resortman ($4.50), Great Again ($8) and Western Temple ($9.50).
+ Sydney and Melbourne spring contender Count De Rupee died after a heart attack when ridden by Tommy Berry in a Kembla Grange jump-out on Wednesday. Berry escaped injury. Robert and Luke Price co-trained $2.5 million stake-earner Count De Rupee.