Victorian trainer Paul Preusker has taken a patient approach with Group 1 Melbourne Cup (3200m) contender Surprise Baby (NZ) this year.
The New Zealand-bred gelding hasn’t been sighted on raceday since running fifth in last year’s two-mile feature and Preusker is intent on following a similar path to last spring.
The son of Shocking finished fourth first-up in the Gr.2 Feehan Stakes (1600m) and then won the Gr.3 The Bart Cummings (2520m) before contesting the race that stops a nation.
The rising six-year-old will once again kick-off his spring preparation in the Feehan Stakes on September 5 and Preusker said he is pleased with the way his stable star is tracking.
“I am really happy with where he is at,” Preusker told RSN Radio. “He has come back a stronger horse and is mentally quite relaxed. It’s going to be very interesting.
“We will go back there (Feehan Stakes) and it’s nice to kick these types off at The Valley. I am looking forward to setting him for that and hopefully we get it done.”
Preusker believes Surprise Baby has improved from last spring and he is excited to have one of the leading lights for this year’s Melbourne Cup in his barn.
“Mentally he has come back a lot stronger and I am well aware it’s his second staying prep and he has to do it all again,” he said.
“They come back different mentally, so you have got to be ready to change things quickly, especially with such a lightly raced horse. He is so relaxed now and has furnished right out.
“I am really looking forward to getting there (Melbourne Cup) again.”
While Jordan Childs rode Surprise Baby in all three of his starts last spring, Preusker said he has yet to award the coveted ride to any jockey yet.
“I haven’t even got that far yet (locking in a rider for the Feehan Stakes),” Preusker said.
“We’ll just chip away, that’s the way to do it, and we will sort that out as we go.
“There have been plenty (of calls from jockeys and agents). There wouldn’t be a jockey who wouldn’t want to ride him I suppose.”
Surprise Baby was purchased as an unraced three-year-old for just $5500 from online auction platform gavelhouse.com, with owner John Fiteni sourcing the gelding sight-unseen from Rich Hill Stud, breeders of memorable 2015 Melbourne Cup winner Prince Of Penzance.
Surprise Baby (NZ), picture Quentinjlang.com