All eyes on Brett Robb’s Gallant Star in loaded Highway Handicap

The Brett Robb-trained Gallant Star will contest Saturday’s $120,000 Highway Handicap at Royal Randwick. Photo: Racing Photography.

Brett Robb will travel to Sydney on Saturday boasting a strong hand in the 1100m Class Two Highway Handicap at Royal Randwick.

The Dubbo trainer has Gallant Star (Sam Clipperton, $6) starting from gate three, while Ticket To Anywhere (Kerrin McEvoy, $41) has drawn gate nine in the $120,000 country-only event. 

“It’s a very good race. I think everyone has been waiting for this Class Two,” Robb said. 

“You don’t see them all the time and it looks like a few trainers were saving their horses for it.”

All eyes will be on up-and-coming sprinter Gallant Star, which resumes from a 28-week spell, and Robb said the three-year-old was forced to overcome illness in the lead-up to his highly-anticipated return. 

“We had Gallant Star in a while back, but he came down with a mild virus, and we trialled him at Warren, and I just wasn’t happy with him,” Robb said. 

“I got him home, and treated him, and when he came back in, he was just a different horse. 

“Then his trial at Dubbo was good; I thought it was a strong trial, and he was strong late.”

Following his trial win at Dubbo over the 860m journey on January 9, Gallant Star has continued to impress Robb, working well alongside talented galloper and stablemate Boom Boom Basil, which will also race in town on Saturday.

“I was actually going to wait another two weeks to race him, but the way he pulled up after the trial, he was ready to go,” Robb said. 

“Then with his gallops since, he is looking and feeling great, and I thought he was ready. 

“He’s been working with another good horse Boom Boom Basil, and there is not much between them, which tells me he must be going good.”

Gallant Star was ultra-impressive during his first preparation, winning back-to-back races over the 1110m at Dubbo in June, including the two-year-old Silver Goblet, before finishing third in the 1100m two-year-old Handicap at Royal Randwick in July. 

Robb wouldn’t say the three-year-old was any better than his previous preparation, only that he was the ultimate professional when it came to going to the races. 

“He’s probably a similar horse to last time out; he’s a hard horse to work out, but we always knew he had ability,” Robb said. 

“Still, we didn’t know he would be that good last prep, and I couldn’t get a proper guide on him because he doesn’t work the best at home, but he is a real professional, and he turns into a proper racehorse at the races.”

Owned by former Test leg-spinner and cult-hero cricket commentator, Kerry ‘Skull’ O’Keefe, the spotlight has been on Gallant Star, who races in the commentators black and pink silks that is defined by a big pink skull.

Robb said it was business as usual for him, and that there was no added pressure training for one of Australia’s cricketing icons. 

“To talk to him on the phone and in person, he is just a normal fella, and a really nice bloke to talk to,” Robb said. 

“He is easy to get along with and he’s understanding, and there is no pressure from him.”

Robb wasn’t playing down the chances of Ticket To Anywhere in the same race, and despite the big price, Robb believes the four-year-old can feature. 

“He went down there the other day (in a Highway Handicap at Rosehill Gardens), and he probably didn’t handle the going,” Robb said.

“He has taken a lot of improvement from the run and pulled up good, and you will see a different horse on Saturday.”

The Hinchinbrook gelding possesses a nice turn of foot and strong finish, and Robb believes he has improved his racing manners this time in. 

“He’s racing a little better this time. He was throwing away the start last prep, and it cost him a couple of races, but he is a different horse now, and he has come on a lot,” Robb said.

Robb also has Boom Boom Basil racing in the $150,000, 1100m Benchmark 78 Handicap.

The five-year-old has started nine times for four wins and one placing, winning a 1200m Highway Handicap at Rosehill Gardens at his last start back in May.

The Foxwedge gelding finished third in the same trial to Gallant Star, and Robb explained that this race was the perfect starting point as connections eyed off the $150,000 Western Districts qualifier at Coonamble on March 12, which will lead in to the $500,000 Country Championships final at Royal Randwick on April 1.

“He is a nice horse, and I am setting him as my main Country Champs horse, and this is a great starting point for him,” Robb said. 

“First-up last time, he wanted to get out and charge along, so we thought we’d put him in a strong race, and hopefully he gets in behind them and they run a long a bit and he charges home late.

“In all honesty, we were struggling to find a race, and it was this or Canterbury on Friday night, and when he got a run, we thought we’d give him a shot.”

Robb sent his horses to Penrith on Thursday in the lead-up to Saturday’s meeting, and while the popular and in-form trainer continues to taste success in town and all over the state, he admitted that he was still fine-tuning his trips to Sydney.

“I probably still haven’t worked out the best way of doing it, but in this hot weather, I like to travel them down to Penrith at Steve Allen’s place,” Robb said.

“It’s a spelling farm, and all my horses have been there, and they know the place, and they all seem to settle in good, especially in the summer when it’s a bit hotter. 

“In the winter, I might travel them down and back the same day, and it doesn’t seem to knock them around as much, but it’s something we are still working on.”

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