While Berkeley Square holds favouritism for the $500,000 Moonee Valley Vase, Liam Howley has given his colt Virtuous Circle a very strong push for the Group 2 feature at The Valley on Saturday.
Speaking with Racing.com, Howley was excited not only about his runner’s chances this weekend, but also the prospect of possibly pushing forward to the VRC Derby on the one-week backup.
The Derby looks to have been a long-term goal from the outset when purchased as a yearling by Howley.
“He was bought for this occasion, and it’s good to see a long-term plan come to fruition,” said Howley.
“That’s the real passion behind my training and interest in the game, he’s just an absolute specimen.
“We would’ve bought him regardless of his pedigree. He was the one that stood out to us that day, we went to buy a big horse to set the stable up, and he was it.
“He’s always been a real athlete, and a real professional, he’s got a lovely big set of lungs on him, a beautiful mover, and probably from day one we knew he was going to take us somewhere.
“Every time we’ve stepped him up, he’s met the challenge, we still think we’re a long way off finding the bottom of him, but he’s certainly prepared to run well on Saturday and we’re excited by him.”
Howley was also very happy with the prospect of Virtuous Circle – who is a $5 chance with Palmerbet – handling the Heavy track predicted for Moonee Valley on Saturday, referencing his win back on August 20 in similar conditions.
“I don’t think we’ve found what his preferred surface is, he’s given us the feel that he’ll just adapt to whatever it is (on Saturday),” Howley said.
“It’s certainly a positive to know he can get through the heavy and particularly get around the Valley when it’s heavy.”
On the potential of moving towards a Group 1 VRC Derby, Howley referred to the versatility of Virtuous Circle from last start when beaten by Tijuana only 0.9 lengths away after closing strongly in the Group 2 Stutt Stakes.
“I was taken with his closing speed, I hoped that going into Group 2 level at a mile that he’d show us that level,” he said.
“It was really pleasing to see, it’s a really dash of brilliance from him.
“Once we step him up in trip in time, it’s good to know they’ve got it.
“They’ve got to have genuine speed about them, and he’s certainly got that.”
In-form hoop James McDonald is booked to ride Virtuous Circle in the Vase, and when asked about giving any instructions, Howley insisted he was quick to leave it all up to the leading Sydney jockey.
“I don’t think we’ll give ‘J-Mac’ (McDonald) any instructions – he knows him quite well and was very excited by his run last start,” he said.
“He’s the sort of horse that likes to get back and have a look at them, he jumps well, but on the third or fourth stride he just likes to balance up, get in a rhythm, get relaxed, breath, then he coils up like a spring and lets go.”
If he is to win or run well this Saturday, punters could be enticed by the $11 on offer at Bet365 for Virtuous Circle in the VRC Derby – particularly given the different form-line he would bring to the race.
Mr Maestro holds firm favouritism for the Derby at around $3.25 with online bookmakers, with Berkeley Square, Muramasa and Sharp ‘N’ Smart vying for second spot in the market at $7.
Virtuous Circle odds – 2022 Moonee Valley Vase
Race 7 –
3yo Colt | T: Liam Howley | J: James McDonald (57kg)