Chautauqua to get last shot at Everest slot
CHAMPION sprinter Chautauqua is still in The Everest mix - provided he jumps cleanly from the barriers in the most crucial trial in memory at Rosehill Gardens on Saturday.
Chautauqua has refused to begin in six jump-outs or barrier trials this year and is on his last chance with Racing NSW stewards.
Hall of Fame trainer John Hawkes has a philosophical take on Chautauqua's much-anticipated trial.
"If it happens, it happens, if it doesn't then life will still go on,'' Hawkes said. "The horse is fit and well, he's fine which is the main thing. If he doesn't jump it is not the end of the world.''
But if the "grey flash" does pass his barrier trial test on Saturday, he will move closer to a start in the $13 million The Everest (1200m) at Royal Randwick on October 13 - or will he?
Chautauqua's part-owner Greg Ingham of GPI Racing has an Everest slot but pulled a surprise on Wednesday night when it was announced that he had locked in Invincible Star for the world's richest turf race.
Andrew Williams, bloodstock agent and slot manager for GPI Racing, explained that Invincible Star has been on their short list of potential Everest runners for some weeks.
"She has speed, she has the x-factor and is an unknown quantity - she could be a real star this spring,'' Williams said.
"Chautauqua has always been an option, albeit a high-risk one. Hopefully in his trial (Saturday) he shows everybody else what we have seen from him at home."
Gai Waterhouse, who trains in partnership with Adrian Bott, said she was "thrilled" when told Invincible Star would join stablemate English in the elite Everest field.
"She is the lightest raced horse in the field but she is such a fast mare, she is very exciting,'' Waterhouse said.
"We were hoping she would get a slot for quite some time and I guess after her latest trial people realised she was back bigger and stronger than ever - and they saw her incredible cruising speed.''
But Williams was quick to add that Ingham was still hopeful Chautauqua and also Showtime, another sprinter he part-owned, could make The Everest field.
There are only two slots remaining to complete The Everest's elite 12-horse field. They are held by leading owners Max Whitby and Neil Werrett in a joint arrangement, and the Australian Turf Club.
Whitby and Werrett were hoping to lock in Pierata earlier this week but negotiations broke down, meaning both men will take a keener interest in Chautauqua's trial.
"I think we have to put a line through Pierata now so we are back out there trying to find our Everest horse, and we are getting a bit toey,'' Whitby said.
"We are looking at the likes of Kementari, Chautauqua, Happy Clapper, Le Romain and Nature Strip. I think the next couple of weeks will settle it for us.''
ATC officials are also considering all their options, with Kementari and Chautauqua high on their short list.
Ingham and Williams are hopeful Chautauqua can overcome his barrier antics and Showtime wins the Memsie Stakes next start so both could the final two Everest slots.
"If we get Showtime and Chautauqua in the race, having two or three runners is better than one,'' Williams said.
"Greg and his wife Barbara couldn't be more impressed with how Peter V'landys and Racing NSW have approached the concept and driven it to the public.
"The Everest is the talking point of the spring and we're just thrilled to be involved again.''
Hoofnote: Chautauqua's make-or-break barrier trial, which also includes Dixie Blossoms, Lean Mean Machine, Sambro, Tally, The Autumn Sun, Youngster and Zousain, will be televised live on Sky Thoroughbred Central at 1.28pm on Saturday.