Connections declare Protagonist primed for Doncaster Mile glory

Protagonist is primed for a strong Doncaster Mile showing
Protagonist pictured winning the Sky High Stakes last start for Australian Bloodstock’s Luke Murrell and Jamie Lovett, and trained by William Haggas.

Protagonist is a $10 winning chance for the Doncaster Mile at Randwick on Saturday, but owners of the talented gelding believe he will be in the spotlight after the Group 1 feature.

They were the words of Australian Bloodstock director Luke Murrell, who was delighted with his six-year-old’s strong finish to hold out Zeyrek in the Group 3 Sky High Stakes at Rosehill last start on March 11.

Randwick had Soft 5 conditions on Friday morning which will suit the English long-distance competitor.

“I think Protagonist can win,” Murrell told, his stayer to carry just 50kg with Ben Thompson aboard, and to run from barrier eight.

“I think Protagonist is a weight-for-age horse carrying the limit, and he gets the right map and he’ll like a bit of sting out.

“There are so many ticks there for him.”

Champion jockey James McDonald was impressed with Protagonist’s fighting spirit and finishing skill in his last-start win for William Haggas.

“He was on our radar over there because he was running these crazy figures, and we were able to do a deal with William to keep him,” Murrell said.

“That track was probably too firm for him the other day. James said he had multiple gears left in him.

“So even though he only won by a short margin, if you look back through his history he’s done it a fair bit going back from 2000m to a mile and getting the job done.”

Murrell and fellow Australian Bloodstock director Jamie Lovett – both two-time Melbourne Cup winners – are among the best at finding top international horses.

So it is worth taking note of Murrell’s observation that Protagonist can be a major player in his elite-level race worth $4 million on Saturday.

“I just know he’s a weight-for-age horse, so if it was 1800m I honestly think it’d be no betting,” he said.

“As long as he can be comfortable that first 300m he’ll be right in the finish.”

Don’t write off fellow Australian Bloodstock and English-born runner Nugget for Ciaron Maher and David Eustace, either.

Andrew Gibbons will be aboard the $31 outsider, who finished fifth in the All Star Mile last start on March 18, 2 ¼ lengths behind winner Mr Brightside while carrying 59kg.

The fellow six-year-old gelding will lug just 51.5kg, but will start from gate 22 in the Doncaster Mile.

“I can’t believe the price of Nugget,” Murrell said.

“If he’d drawn softly I’d nearly guarantee anyone he’d run top five.

“As good a horse as Nugget’s been for us out here, I can’t wait to see him ridden cold because that’s his attribute.

“We’ve been riding him too closely so far. He’s got one of the best turns of foot I’ve ever seen on a horse, but we’ve always been a bit close.

“As long as it doesn’t get too wet – that’s probably his negative. And obviously we’ve got a bad gate.

“Nugget’s a knockout chance, but the other bloke I think I’ll be disappointed if he doesn’t run top three.”

Murrell is also confident about Almania ($8) and Willinga Beast ($19) in the respective Group 2 Chairman’s Quality and Group 3 PJ Bell Stakes, both for Kris Lees.

“It just looks Almania’s race. He’s been flying that horse, and Kris has done an amazing job,” Murrell said.

“He’s had two tendon (injuries) and arguably could’ve been a Melbourne Cup horse, but hopefully he gets his chance and wins here, and we can go on to a Sydney Cup.

“Willinga Beast is going particularly well. It’s just a hot fillies’ race, that one.

“So there’s a bit to look forward to.”

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