Santa Ana Lane (Image: Bradley Photos)
Sam Freedman believes the reigning champion for Saturday's Darley Sprint Classic, Santa Ana Lane, goes into the $2 million race in better shape than last year.
Santa Ana Lane won the 1200-metre Group 1 in 2018 off the back of a sixth placing - beaten 5.5 lengths - behind Redzel in The Everest, during which he felt the effects of competing on a Heavy 9 surface.
This year's race was conducted on a Good surface and Santa Ana Lane ran superbly to just fail to reel in three-year-old Yes Yes Yes in course-record time.
"He came out of his Everest run in superb shape," Freedman reported. "He was down at Pinecliff bucking his brands off, so he's given us no indication that his preparation is at an end.
"Last year, it (wet track) just took the wind out of his sails a little bit but this year he had a nice run in transit on a nice surface and he bounced out of it perfectly so touch wood, he's going very well and if the race gets run to suit, he'll be fighting out the finish."
Freedman said it was always intended to run the horse in the Sprint Classic after his attempt on The Everest.
"We went into The Everest second-up with the intention of heading into this third-up," Freedman confirmed.
"A lot of the owners such as (director and honorary treasurer) Michael Ramsden has a close association with the VRC so it would be very fitting to cap off our Spring Carnival - which has been a really good carnival so far - with the old boy getting another Group 1.
"Obviously, his best form is on top of the ground and slightly rain-affected ground. The T.J. Smith was a Soft 7 where he was very devastating.
"Flemington is such a good draining surface, if it was a (Slow) 5 or a 6 it would not concern us too much but if it starting to get into the 7, 8 or 9 range, we would have our doubts on him."
Santa Ana Lane will only have eight rivals on Saturday, but the race threatens to set-up a little differently to last year as the flying frontrunner Nature Strip is one of the eight.
Freedman said the stable is not concerned that this year's race had such a powerful frontrunner.
"We'd probably rather him there than not there," he said. "I think it becomes very much a tactical affair when a horse like Nature Strip isn't in it.
"At least we know that there will be some speed in the race.
"Obviously, they will be trying to get some easy sectionals at some stage, but they will run along to an extent and we won't take our horse out of his comfort zone.
"He is what he is and we know that he'll probably be the strongest horse at the end of the 1200 metres and hopefully that's enough to win the race."
A second victory in the race will see Santa Ana Lane's earnings rise to $7.42m, meaning he will surpass the unbeaten Black Caviar and move into ninth place on the all-time Australian prizemoney list.
The market has marked Santa Ana Lane the $2.40 favourite ahead of Nature Strip ($4.80) and the three-year-old Manikato Stakes-winning filly Loving Gaby at $7.