Trainer Simon Morrish (Image: Racing Photos)
Just four years into its new life at 1800 metres, Saturday's Byerley Handicap for two-year-olds seems to have found the sort of field it was designed for.
Ballarat trainer Simon Morrish certainly believes so. His horse Shadow Prey is one of a handful of horses entered in Saturday's Flemington event to have come through a race that is already shaping as being pivotal when throwing forward in the juvenile's upcoming three-year-old days.
Shadow Prey ran fifth in the 1400-metre race at Ballarat won by the smart Efflorescence, who went on to win again at Caulfield, beaten by just 5.5 lengths.
"He comes through a terrific form race," Morrish said of his veteran of just one start. "The first two (Efflorescence and Foxgossip) have come out and won and, in fact, third (Split Second), fourth (Choir), fifth (Shadow Prey) and seventh (Raffish) are all running in that race on Saturday."
"I liked him a bit first-up at Ballarat over the 1400 metres and he just got himself a bit further more forward than we expected and was found wanting a little late and so we'll be riding him a little bit quieter on Saturday so he can finish off.
"He's a real stayer out of a High Chaparral mare and he has a real staying pedigree. I quite like the horse."
The Byerley Handicap, which was amended from 1600 to 1800m just a few seasons ago in an attempt by the Victoria Racing Club to support young staying horses, offers its winner ballot-free status for either the spring Derby or Oaks in Melbourne.
But more than that, it offers hope if not promise of better things ahead.
"It's a stepping stone to see where we sit in the big picture and whether we can look at the spring," Morrish said.
For a horse like Shadow Prey, any spring involvement would be a surprise given the deeds, or lack of them, of her mother.
"Barb Saunders raced the mother (Lady Brave) and (former trainer) Robert Smerdon said it was possibly the slowest horse he ever trained but she had a really good pedigree being out of the O'Reilly mare Rathsallagh," Morrish explained.
"She (Lady Brave) was useless as a racehorse. She had two trials and two race starts and ran last every time. She as very, very slow but as often happens out of good mares, the next generation end up being alright."
To win on Saturday would be a dream but to run well would bolster the confidence of connections that they have a horse that could contend for some big spring races.
"Most of us are going into the same uncharted territory and it's exciting," he said.
"The big track will suit him and the 1800 metres will suit him and take out the McEvoy horse (Mr Wolf), we're all maidens so it should be a really good race."