PUNTERS were a little cautious about backing Big Duke after a gut-busting run in the Manion Cup last start, but it dispelled fears with ease.
The Darren Weir-trained superstar lived up to its Sydney Cup favouritism tag by winning Saturday’s Chairman’s Handicap at Randwick with ease over Aloft and Rock On.
The five-year-old European import has now won five of its last six starts and will head to next Saturday’s Sydney Cup as the $2.80 favourite with Sportsbet.com.au.
Representing trainer Darren Weir was owner’s representative Jamie Lovett, who has happy with the effort given the weights.
“It was the first time he felt the run. It was a terrific ride taking runs. I thought he really let down with the big weight,” Lovett said.
“He got a penalty for the Manion Cup, so I think he gets 51.5kg and then the weights go up (for the Sydney Cup).”
Winning jockey Craig Williams had to clear a late medical check after suffering a concussion in the Mornington Cup last Saturday, but the champion hoop was fit enough to steer the Duke home.
“First of all I’ve got to thank the medics and the staff at Mornington Race Club on the day, as well as the intensive and emergency department at Frankston Hospital,” Williams said.
“It’s been overwhelming with the support I’ve had from people in racing, fellow jockeys as well as family and friends.
“It’s been great to get me to here, Doctor Gary Zimmerman, Greg Malham he was the neurosurgeon and Mr Stephens for all their hard work to get me back here and allow me to do what I love to do on the track.”
Williams was also grateful to Darren Weir who could have opted for another jockey, but stayed committed to Williams.
“I’m very grateful to Darren Weir and the owners for honouring their commitment, a lot of things changed on Sunday with whether or not I could ride,” Williams said.
“It’s obviously fantastic to get a win on one of the great days of the Australian Racing Calendar, day one of The Championships at Randwick.”
Williams is hoping the Sydney Cup favourite will continue on to the staying feature next Saturday.
“Let’s hope so, I was very happy with him, Darren Weir and has team have done a great job with him, they told me he had thrived and he has,” Williams said.
“He had to go up in weight on a wet-track and did it well.
“If he pulls up well and they elect to go that way, it feels like he is the one they have to beat, so credit to them.”
Aloft lost no admirers in running second, but it did appear to have every chance. Jockey Ben Melham thinks it will improve with more racing.
“He went really well. Really raw this way of going but will be better for the experience.”
New Zealand raider Rock On battled well for third and it will likely progress to the Sydney Cup.
“I thought he ran terrific first try over here. He has run behind the eventual Sydney Cup favourite. I think he is only going to progress,” jockey Brenton Avdulla said.