- Weekend best bets: Bank on Bon to light way
Jockey Kathy O’Hara feels she can relive April 20 all over again on Saturday at Rosehill Gardens when she takes rides in two feature Stakes races.
O’Hara partners Grey Lion in the Listed ATC Cup (2000m) and the fact she’s picked up the prized ride on the James Cummings-trained Ranier in the Group 3 Festival Stakes (1500m) was a good omen for the former champion apprentice.
“In the autumn I rode a Group winner for Godolphin and won a Group race on Grey Lion on the same day,” she said.
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That was the Cummings-trained Laburnum in the Group 3 JHB Carr Stakes and Matthew Smith’s grey horse in the Group 3 JRA Plate.
O’Hara had a difficult start to the spring when she was banned for five weeks in September for using her phone in the jockeys’ room on dozens of occasions.
While the nature of the phone use had nothing to do with integrity issues, the stewards came down heavily on O’Hara for repeat offences and hit her with an initial three-month ban (reduced on appeal) many thought was harsh.
She took the opportunity to get away from the sport but was still riding horses at trackwork and even did a bit of showjumping.
“It was the first time I’d had a long time away from the racetrack without being injured,” she said. “I was able to do a few normal things. I could go away for the weekend, which was something I never got to do, and it freshened me up mentally.
“It’s so competitive in Sydney so it’s hard to take a break.”
O’Hara was at her best last Saturday when producing a gem of a ride on $19 chance Aqua D’ivina at Kembla Grange’s The Gong meeting. The Matthew Smith-trained horse wouldn’t have been a hope without O’Hara’s urgings to push through a gap and pinch the race.
“Sometimes you need the luck to fall your way and I had a lovely run when I needed it,” she said. “It all helps with your momentum and getting the ball rolling again after being on the sidelines for five weeks.”
Grey Lion, also trained by Smith, is one of O’Hara’s favourite horses and they are looking to combine for their third Group win together on Saturday.
The eight-year-old will carry the top weight in the ATC Cup and is coming off 10th, eighth and eighth place finishes at his past three runs. But they were over 2400m and 2600m and O’Hara said punters should focus more on Grey Lion’s a very close fourth behind Finche four starts back in the Group 3 Kingston Town Stakes (2000m).
“He ran well in Melbourne but I don’t think he stays those distances. He’s back to a more suitable trip now and the horse is well so I think he’ll run some sort of a race,” she said.
“You can read his form on face value and think it’s tapered off but I think he’s had genuine excuses. The other day at Flemington he loomed up to them and was there at the furlong but faded in the last 100m where I think it was too far for him.
“Then in the Geelong race (the start before) nothing went right for him. He got shuffled back and held up then got to the outside and the race was all over.”
O’Hara feels the 2000m will also help him find his turn of foot again.
She hasn’t been on Ranier before but he’s always been an exciting prospect for Godolphin and trainer James Cummings.
He should start favourite in the Festival Stakes after flashing home at his past two runs including a second placing last start at Flemington behind Mandela Effect over 1600m.
Ranier finished in front of Mr Exclusive that day and he went on to run second in a tight finish in a Group 3 race.
“It’s hard to split him and Grey Lion as to which one I’m most excited about,” O’Hara said.
“It’s a massive opportunity with Ranier. Everything maps perfectly for him and it’s a very suitable race for Grey Lion to get some form back on the board.
“He missed a start in The Gong last week but he’s got a start in this race and he’s drawn well so he’ll give himself every chance.”
O’Hara will ride country horses Peloso Lass and Oh So Hot in the pair of Highway races as well as Devlann in the last event while opening the day on the first starter Time For Peace in the two-year-old race. She ran a close second behind Jemss in her latest trial and Jemss is a juvenile that David Payne really rates.
O’Hara thinks the Lee Curtis runner will put herself right into the race.
“She’s obviously coming into the race very new but she’s got ability,” she said.
“Whether she’s up to them at this stage or not is yet to be seen. They can either improve a lot off a trial or it can tip them over the edge.
“Lee is very happy with her though and she’s got plenty of natural speed so that will help.”