The winning margin was narrow but trainer Robert Hickmott was suitably encouraged by the fighting qualities of his German import Schabau in taking the Lawn Handicap over 2000 metres at Flemington on Saturday.
Schabau was sent around the $2.35 favourite and despite travelling like the winner for much of the journey in the Benchmark 84 race, he was made to fight the length of the Flemington straight to retain his unbeaten record in Australia and to further the dream that he could one day be a Melbourne Cup horse.
Schabau looked vulnerable several times in the home straight as firstly Prince Ziggy (third) and then the runner-up Looks Like Elvis drove at him, only for the four-year-old to dig deep and fight them off to win by a half head.
"It was good to see because he can be one of those horses that can switch off when he hits the front and to have the fighting ability like that - the tenacity - is obviously a great feather in his cap," Hickmott said.
"It was a leisurely-run race and that probably didn't suit him because he's looking for a mile-and-a-half (2400m).
"Looking at that now, I don't think we'll keep him at 2000m. We won't see the best of this horse until a mile-and-a-half-plus."
Hickmott is looking at spelling the horse for the spring and basing his campaign around winning his way into a Melbourne Cup via The Bart Cummings - run four weeks before the great race.
"If he does have one more it could be in the Roy Higgins (March 2 at Flemington) in a couple of weeks," Hickmott added.
The Roy Higgins Quality is a listed race over 2600m and victory in that race will at least get Schabau beyond the first qualifying stage for the Melbourne Cup.
Schabau was expected to be pressured on Saturday but most punters thought it would come from the topweight Hang Man, who was backed late from $3.90 to $3.40 but could only manage sixth spot.
Trainer Mike Moroney said the horse beat stablemate Vengeur Masque in a gallop on Tuesday, with Vengeur Masque going on to win Friday night's Torney Cup at The Valley.
"He (jockey, Damien Oliver) said he thought he was going better than the winner but he just sprinted 100 metres and that was it," Moroney said. "He just seemed to race a little flat."
Hang Man will get his chance to qualify for spring's Caulfield Cup via next month's Mornington Cup.
Schabau (GER) and Mark Zahra (black and white checks), picture Quentinjlang.com