Casterton (Image: Racing Photos)
Last Tuesday's Lexus Melbourne Cup was always going to be a step too far this spring for lightly-raced Fastnet Rock import Casterton, but the race has at least underlined the galloper's potential as he heads into Saturday's Group 3 Queen Elizabeth Stakes over 2600 metres at Flemington.
Casterton was among the entries for the Caulfield Cup and Lexus Melbourne Cup this spring on the back of a solid if not outstanding European summer, but hindsight has provided a clue to the reasons why part-owner Terry Henderson of OTI Racing was so keen for the French horse to become an Australian and chase the race that stops a nation.
Three starts ago at Deauville in a Group 3 race over 2500m, Casterton finished fourth, beaten 2.7 lengths behind Finche, who subsequently finished fourth in Tuesday's Lexus Melbourne Cup.
Casterton then progressed to the G2 Prix Kergorlay over 3000m at Deauville - a noted producer of Lexus Melbourne Cup horses - and although he only finished sixth, he was only five lengths astern of the race runner-up Marmelo, who beat all but Cross Counter in Tuesday's Cup.
The five-year-old entire made an unheralded Australian debut in the Geelong Cup when he started a $31 outsider but after being steadied off heels on the home turn, he powered home to be beaten just over four lengths behind all-the-way winner Runaway.
Notably, Finche - who like Casterton is now trained by Chris Waller - again finished a couple of lengths ahead of him when he ran third at Geelong.
That form suggests Casterton will be competitive, but Henderson said the stable was expecting a vastly-improved run on Saturday following the addition of some gear.
"Mick Walker (jockey) said after the race 'just put blinkers on' so we've put them on tomorrow," Henderson said.
"He's never had them on before but his work during the week with them on was first rate."
OTI Racing has claims on three fronts in the Queen Elizabeth.
"Lord Fandango was a bit unlucky at Bendigo (when fourth) and he's now cherry ripe. This is his fourth run in and he's right and Gallic Chieftain (fourth in last Saturday's Lexus Stakes), he's just a warrior," Henderson added.
All three horses failed to make this spring's Lexus Melbourne Cup, so Henderson said it was crucial that one of them win on Saturday.
"Usually if they can win this race, they get a run in the Cup the next year so it's a very important race," he said.
OTI Racing may not just be eyeing off the Lexus Melbourne Cup next year as Henderson said the team might also have a Cox Plate contender in 2019 in the form of the emerging French horse Mr Satchmo, who won the Listed Grand Prix du Nord (2000m) at Chantilly.
"We've only had him for four races and he's won three of them all in listed class," he said. "You'd like to think he'd win a Group 2 and Moonee Valley will kindly invite him out next year (for the Cox Plate)."