Hawkesbury trainer Claire Lever is back in town for a shot at redemption in the 2021 Mudgee Cup (1600m) with Highly Desired after the gelding finished down the track when sent out as clear favourite in the mile feature last year.
The son of Wanted was well supported to start $3.20 favourite in 2020 but gave punters little to cheer about, fading badly to finish a well-beaten fifth after settling outside the leader and eventual winner Regal Stage.
“It was pretty disappointing last year,” Lever said.
“He went for a spell after that. I think he was just very tired. He’d had about 10 runs that prep and a few trials. When he came back the prep after he was a different horse and he went really well. He then went to the Gunnedah Cup and came back a bit sore and went out.
“And he has come back in this prep and improved again. He’s going really well. “We’ve come here fingers crossed for a better result this year than last year.”
The now seven-year-old has produced strong performances in all three runs this preparation, with the peak of those performances coming second-up when finishing 6th placing in the $700,000 The Four Pillars. That form ties in with recent Midway Handicap winners Divine Breath and Tampering.
“I was so happy with his run in The Four Pillars,” Lever said.
“He’s probably never been against that grade of horse before and he didn’t have any peace in front – I think if he had been able to get a little breather at some stage he would have been right in the finish.
“He only got beaten two and a half lengths. I think if the track had a bit of give it that day it could have been a different story for him too.”
Lever’s confidence of turning around last year’s performance is buoyed by the fact the Mudgee region has recorded it’s wettest November since 1995, causing the Mudgee track to rated a Heavy (10) – the same conditions which saw Highly Desired lead all the way to win the Coonabarabran Cup (1600m) in 2020.
“He just gets through the wet tracks – he will go the same speed on a Heavy as he would on a Good track,” Lever said.
“It really thins out the field because a lot of horses don’t handle it or don’t love it and he does. It’s always nice to know he is going to get through the conditions.
“He does get through the heavy but so does Ready To Humble – it was so heavy when he won last start so, it will be an interesting race.”
Rising star Dylan Gibbons takes the ride at 58.5kg from barrier 15 and Lever believes he is going to be a huge asset on Friday, especially given their recent success.
“He’s a great rider but an even better kid,” Lever said.
“He’s a lovely boy from a good family and we have had good success together. “I’ve given him three rides and he has had two winners for me.
“He rides my horses well and obviously he had that Group winner the other week – he’s flying. I think he’s just biding his time a little bit more but once he makes that move to town I expect he will be kicking goals every week.
“He’ll have a big future.
“The draw isn’t ideal but Dylan should have plenty of time to come across and find the lead or slot in.”
Highly Desired currently sits on the second-line of bettting at $4.80 with Nick Olive’s Ready To Humble holding favouritism at $3.50 after taking out the Snake Gully Cup (1400m) at Gundagai on a Heavy (10) track last start.
The eight race Country Showcase meeting kicks off at 1.24pm and finishes at 5.44pm, with the feature Mudgee Cup to jump at 5.04pm.
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