THE Ciaron Maher-trained gelding Hazzabeel is looking to break a 20-year drought for Victorians in Saturday’s Group 2 Villiers Stakes.
The former Perth galloper is having its fourth start for Maher who trained the six-year-old to victory in the Listed Kilmore Cup before running second in the Group 3 Festival Stakes.
Maher believes the current $8 chance at Sportsbet is going well heading into the Randwick feature.
“He’s really turned the corner and is in great order since coming to the stable,” Maher said.
“He went through our Warrnambool yard, he does beach work down at Mordialloc and he’s just a happy horse.”
Hazzabeel was good enough to run fifth in the 2015 Group 1 Railway Stakes, but its form dropped off before being transferred to Maher’s, who opted for the Villiers instead of a run in the Group 1 Kingston Town Stakes in Perth.
“He was great down the straight first-up, the win at Kilmore was super and he backed it up at Rosehill,” Maher said.
“He’s an older horse, we keep mixing it up with him and that keeps him interested. He couldn’t be racing any better.”
Jockey Michael Dee was aboard Hazzabeel in its Kilmore Cup win and the young New Zealander wanted to stick with it for the Villiers.
“The Kilmore Cup win was very good and last start was ideal leading into this race,” Dee said.
“He was always going to improve again, my confidence levels were high.”
Dee said the addition of the front-running Fabrizio would ensure Hazzabeel gets a nice run in transit.
“There’s plenty of speed in the race so I should be able to get a nice sit,” he said.
“He could lead if you really wanted him to but he’s been finishing off very well.”
The bookmakers have only three runners at single-figure odds with Fabrizio, Hazzabeel and High Midnight. Sportsbet.com.au’s Will Byrne believes the Villiers is a wide-open affair.
“High Midnight won a benchmark race at his last start, but there’s plenty of punters who think he can do it,” Byrne said.
“Fabrizio deserves top billing. He ran a super race in the Epsom and then came out and won his next two starts. He has a great first-up record and the Waterhouse stable will have him primed for this.
“Fabrizio is the class runner of the field, but if you take him out of the equation it is a very open race.”