Cliff Brown will be hoping his galloper, The Inferno, can deliver him Group 1 success in the Lightning Stakes (1000m) at Flemington on Saturday.
A win would be the first Group 1 victory for Brown since returning to Australia last year after a 12-year stint training in Singapore.
With his under-stated personality and only a small stable of gallopers, it’s easy to let Brown fly under the radar.
He trained over 570 winners during his time in Singapore and became the first Kranji trainer to win five Group 1 races in a season.
The Narbethong-born trainer also had plenty of success in Australia before departing for Asia. Brown became the youngest trainer in Australian racing history to train three Derby winners at Group 1 level. He trained Group 1 winners Tarnpir Lane, Cheviot, and Markham, who also ran a close third behind Might and Power and Doriemus in the 1997 Melbourne Cup.
Brown now has a boutique stable based in Mornington where he is attempting to re-establish himself as a quality Australian trainer.
The Inferno is the star of the stable for Brown, who brought the gelding over from Singapore when making the move back to his home country. The son of Holy Roman Emperor won eight of his nine starts in Singapore over distances ranging from 1200m to 1600m.
In his four starts on Australian soil to date, The Inferno has managed to win the Group 2 McEwan Stakes (1000m) at Moonee Valley. He was also narrowly defeated at Group 1 level in the Moir Stakes, also run at Moonee Valley, where he finished a runner-up behind the Peter & Paul Snowden-trained entire, Wild Ruler.
Despite the positive Australian results for The Inferno, Brown is cautious about the gelding’s chances in Saturday’s Lightning Stakes.
“If he’s finishing off and running home, I’m really pleased, and that’s all I want to see. If he wins or runs a place, I’m over the moon. But I think you’ve got to be careful going into a race like this that your expectations aren’t too high,” Brown told Racing.com.
“We’re up against probably the best Lightning Stakes field I can remember.”
Brown isn’t alone in his thoughts about the quality of this year’s Lightning Stakes with many racing pundits sharing similar thoughts. Remarkably the field of nine has a combined prize-money earning of more than $36 million.
The Inferno will be first-up on Saturday after having what was his first preparation in Australia last Spring.
Brown was impressed with how his gelding has comeback after a break and suggested that we might see an improved galloper this preparation.
“He’s a lot better,” Brown declared.
“Having that six weeks in the paddock is massive, and it was a perfect time weather wise, he did well. I could really see a lot of maturity in him.
“He’s comeback in good shape.”
The former Singaporean galloper will be partnered by another who has tasted success in Asia, jockey Damian Lane, who rode the gelding in a Cranbourne trial last week where he hit the line hard.
Brown would prefer to give his gelding a jump-out down the Flemington straight before tackling it for the first time on Saturday, but the refusal of the VRC to allow outside trainers to gallop on the straight has meant that couldn’t happen.
“It is disappointing that you can’t take the horse down there,” he said.
“I’ve heard other trainers talk about it, and I think it is significant, and I think it is something that needs to be addressed. It’s not a matter of us being spoilt sports or anything like that.”
The Inferno is likely to be given time to find his feet once the gates open for the Group 1 dash.
“He’ll get back,” Brown stated.
The same can’t be said about several other runners in the field, with some of the quickest sprinters in the land taking their place in the race. Horses such as Nature Strip, Eduardo, and Profiteer are expected to set a good tempo, which could set the race up for The Inferno to swoop home over the top of them.
Brown was a little concerned that may not actually be the case up the straight.
“I know it sounds silly, good speed in the race, but sometimes in these straight races they all do sit-up and sprint home,” he said.
Even if The Inferno is unable to pull-off an upset win in the Lightning Stakes on Saturday, the future does look bright for the Mornington trainer and his star galloper.