Seven heats were run last Friday night to decide the field for the final of the 405-metre feature, and two of the most impressive winners hailed from the Stuart kennel.
First to qualify was Sialia (Collide-Winsome Bluebird), a half-sister to champion bitch Miata. The track specialist Sialia timed her jump to perfection from box six and was not headed, scoring a 6.5-length win over Tomiko Kid in a slick 22.66 – taking her career record at Mandurah to 20 starts for 11 wins.
Sialia has drawn the inside box for the feature but Stuart was not thrilled with the draws for Sialia and Astrophysic (box four).
“I’d prefer if they were switched around, to be honest,” he said. “Sialia is better off with an outside draw. She’s only a little bitch which doesn’t go well with them going around the outside.”
This is only the second time Sialia has drawn the rail in her past 19 starts. On the other occasion, in November last year, she ran sixth behind Black Ronny.
The blue bitch’s best form has come from the squeeze boxes of four, five and six but there isn’t much speed drawn near her. Golden Gossip (box two) was slow away in the heats before producing a slick finish. In box three is Powerhouse, a known slow starter, so Sialia could find herself in the lead early.
Sialia couldn’t be more different from Miata, said Stuart, who added Sialia was powerful despite her small frame.
“She is the last daughter of Winsome Bluebird, but they aren’t similar at all,” he said. “Sialia is only a little thing, only light, but she tries hard.”
The trainer from Nambeelup will also start Astrophysic, which has looked near-unbeatable in recent runs.
The Cosmic Rumble dog was an impressive heat winner in 22.55, with a winning margin of 9.75 lengths. He was the best fancied chaser of the night at odds of $1.30 and the result was never in doubt.
He jumped on terms before showing a great turn of foot to blitz his rivals and confirm he is the dog to watch in the final on Friday night.
That win took his record to 13 starts for 11 wins and two placings, a great record for a young dog which will only get better with age.
“It [Friday’s race] will definitely be his hardest test to date,” Stuart said. “He hasn’t drawn too well so he has to be on his best behaviour.
“He’s not the best box dog and Majestic Gem in box five is a quick beginner so he could find trouble early on.”
Astrophysic is one of the least experienced dogs in the race but has not been stretched during his five-race winning streak. The smallest winning margin came two starts back at Mandurah where he won by 5.5 lengths in a super-slick time of 22.48, his quickest time since running 22.41 in November last year.
It would appear bad luck is the only thing that could stop Astrophysic from notching his sixth straight win, but Stuart isn’t counting his chickens.
“He does have things going against him,” he said. “There are some classy types in this field and his lack of experience is a worry. The draw is a worry but he is fast enough to counter that.”
Astrophysic has started a short-priced favourite in all 13 career starts. His highest price came six starts back where he finished second behind Luba Monelli as a $1.90 chance, but has since started at nothing higher than $1.30 with the bookmakers.
“If I were framing a market I’d have both [my] runners around the $2.50-$2.80 mark,” Stuart said. “There is a lot of strength in this field and they [bookmakers] would have to respect that.”
One thing is for sure, the Stuart kennel is on fire of late but the humble trainer isn’t getting ahead of himself.
“We’re just doing what we’re doing. Keeping at it and hopefully we continue to get success.”
As for plans with Sialia and Astrophysic, Stuart said: “We’ll get through this run first. I might head to some of the more staying cups later in the year if everything goes right.”