He broke the track record by taking out the 2021 Alice Springs Cup (2000m), and I Am The Fox looked ominous when he made a triumphant return to Pioneer Park on Saturday.
Lumping 60kg and spotting his rivals 5kg, the eight-year-old gelding could not have been more impressive en route to victory in the $25,000 Indervon Handicap (1900m).
It was only his second run back in the Northern Territory after starring in the Red Centre and Top End for trainer Garry Lefoe Jnr last year.
After two runs in Melbourne in October and November, I Am The Fox stepped out in Darwin on March 25 to finish second behind stablemate Budget King – the 2020 NT Derby winner – over 1600m.
I Am The Fox didn’t run in Alice Springs before the Cup last year, but Lefoe elected to take him to the Red Centre much earlier on this occasion.
“He had a few more runs under his belt in Darwin last year before coming to Alice,” Lefoe said.
“Gave him a conditioning run in the 1900m race last weekend and obviously straight into the Cup now.”
And if he continues from where he left off come Cup Day, then I Am The Fox is more than capable of making it back-to-back wins in Alice Springs’ biggest race.
Jumping from the inside gate in his 62nd career start on Saturday, I Am The Fox (Paul Shiers) settled nicely in seventh place as the field swung out of the home straight for the first time.
Happy to trail the leaders, the $2.30 favourite made his move leaving the back straight as the in-form Masaru Warrior (Casey Hunter) from the Will Savage stable hit the front.
Masaru Warrior ($4.60), who was always positioned at the head of the pack, and I Am The Fox cleared away and once turning for home it was nip and tuck until the top weight gained the ascendancy with 200m to go.
The margin of victory was three lengths, with Lisa Whittle’s $14 hope Zelring (Lorelle Crow) coming from last to finish third – albeit 10 lengths behind Masaru Warrior.
The other seven runners in the field just laboured, although $26 outsider Doon Buggy (Sonja Wiseman) representing the Russell Bell stable wasn’t that far behind Zelring.
Naturally, Lefoe was happy with the win.
“He still wasn’t fully wound up before the Cup yet and it was a very pleasing run – obviously it’s another two weeks away,” he said.
“Good to see him hit back to form. Still got plenty of improvement in him towards the Cup.”
Having hardly raced these past 12 months, Lefoe couldn’t be happier with I Am The Fox.
“He did run well in Darwin. Budget King is a very good miler and he was fit and hard,” he said.
“Obviously “Foxie” first up – had a good blow after as I knew he would. He still ran very good.
“I knew he would be tough to beat on the weekend and it proved so.”
I Am The Fox won’t race again before the $110,000 Alice Springs Cup on May 1.
And what are Lefoe’s thoughts in regards to the Cup?
“Looking at the nominations on Monday morning there are a couple from the Michael Hickmott stable coming up from South Australia that you’ll obviously respect,” he said.
“Masaru Warrior, who finished second on Saturday, ran very well.
“I Am The Fox will get more weight for the Cup – he got an extra four points on the weekend for winning.”
“He’s going to carry a bit of weight in the Cup.
“They will have to be on their best game to get him because he really loves this track.
“He will be peaking on Cup Day with everything going well between now and then.
“I think he will improve after Saturday’s run to go into the Cup and his fitness will improve.
“He broke the track record in the Cup last year for 2000m (1.59.73). He is likely to run a similar time this year.
“They will need to be breaking two minutes to beat him I reckon.”
The only blemish on the I Am The Fox CV last year in the Northern Territory was an unexpected eighth in the Darwin Cup (2050m).
Lefoe, who resided in Alice Springs before relocating to Darwin a few years ago, isn’t one for excuses, but he was clear to point out that there was a reason.
“He had a terrible week leading into the Cup,” he said.
“He actually had a bout of colic and got a stone bruise all in the week of the Cup.
“That took care of his Darwin Cup, but he bounced back 12 days later to win the Katherine Cup under a big weight.
“Obviously we’ll have another crack this year with the Darwin Cup.
After the Alice Cup we’ll give him a few weeks off and get him ready for the Metric Mile and then straight into the Darwin Cup, and then hopefully the Broome Cup after that.”