CIARON Maher hopes the luck which abandoned top stayer Mr O’Ceirin yesterday returns in time when he chases back-to-back Grafton Cup victories.
Mr O’Ceirin drew barrier 17 for the $150,000 feature, adding another challenge to what is already a stern test for the six-year-old and jockey Blake Shinn.
He won the 2013 Grafton Cup from barrier 16 carrying 56 kilograms, three kilograms fewer than handicappers have asked of him on Thursday. Maher acknowledged Mr O’Ceirin had a “tougher task” to win the listed race over 2350 metres than 12 months ago, but was upbeat about his prospects.
He said two second-place efforts at group 2 level since May had shown what the gelding was capable of.
“His form in Queensland has been pretty consistent. He didn’t have any luck there last start (when ninth in the Caloundra Cup),” Maher said.
“It was the same the start before, the Brisbane Cup. I thought he ran really well. He wasn’t quite strong enough though. He’d done a fair bit of work.”
Maher acknowledged a sense of deja vu to this time last year, when Mr O’Ceirin ran sixth at Moonee Valley at his previous start before saluting at Grafton. “He’s a pretty straight up, genuine sort of horse, he should be fine.” But the trainer was hoping for a dose of rain to enhance his prospects.
“We were hoping we’d get a bit of rain, which we normally do up in Brisbane. This year it’s been quite dry,” he said.
Grafton Cup success would mark the first time Maher has gone back-to-back in a flat feature with the same horse.
The closest he has come is when Moudre placed third in both the 2012 and 2013 Makybe Diva Stakes.
Meanwhile, boom galloper Akavoroun will take his place in the $152,000 listed Winter Championship final over 1600 metres at Flemington on Saturday.
The four-year-old gelding has five wins and a second to his name from six starts and booked his spot in the final with a heat victory 10 days ago.
Fast And Free, the Mick Price-trained horse which beat Akavoroun at Moonee Valley a month ago, is also among the nominations.
“He’s only lowered his colours once. He had a good run (in the heat) and was able to get the job done,” Maher said.
“I’ve always had a high opinion of the horse. It’s another step up to him, he’s got to carry a bit more weight and he’s out to the mile which he hasn’t been before.
“On the flipside, he’s come through the race really well, he’s getting better with each run. I’d say that last run was probably the best he’s raced in terms of manners.”