Zoutori leads way for Ellerton-Zahra
Newmarket Handicap winner Zoutori will try to complete a unique double when he lines up in Saturday's Cantala Stakes at Flemington.
While the Group 1 winner boasts a terrific record in sprint races, particularly along Flemington's straight course, co-trainer Simon Zahra says that a step up to 1600m has been on the cards for a while.
"We were actually going to do it probably 12 months ago, and then just decided to keep him to sprints last carnival, and then obviously he won the Newmarket," said Zahra, who currently trains in partnership with Mathew Ellerton.
"He's won over a mile before, he's won over 1400, so it probably wasn't a surprise that we'd eventually step him up.
"He's not an easy horse to place over the sprints and they're few and far between over the carnival, three runs every spring's probably not ideal, so we wanted to change it up a bit and get him back to the mile and I'm confident he'll run a good race, if the track can stay on the better side of Good."
Zoutori will be competing at his fourth Melbourne Cup Carnival this year, having finished fifth in the 2018 Carbine Club Stakes, third in the 2019 Linlithgow Stakes and fourth in the VRC Sprint Classic last year.
Despite what he's gone on to achieve, his career didn't get off to the best of starts.
"At his first start, I said to the owners, 'This is probably one of our top two, or three, three-year olds', and he came out and ran (near) last!" Zahra recalled.
"It wasn't a great start but once we gelded him and he just started to click, he really put it together.
"He's probably been at the high level for the majority of his life and is sustaining that now."
"He's probably going to roll forward a bit, that's the way he is," Zahra said on the plan from that draw.
"You've just got to keep him rolling, can't hold him up too much."
"It was a big win the other day, we rode her back, it really suited off that tempo, that slowish tempo, to have a good sprint," Zahra said of her win in the Northwood Plume Stakes at Caulfield.
"Again, we'll just try and ride her back a bit, probably going to need luck in that big field, but she's on the way up and raced really genuinely up the straight first up this time around."
Zahra also outlined his stable's other runners to look out for at Flemington throughout Cup Week.
"We've got Kiki Express, who won the other day, it'll go up the straight and it's trialled up well since," he said.
"Bit of an iron horse she is, she continues just to hold her form.
"We've really targeted Prezado on Oaks Day to run up the straight. Obviously, he failed at Caulfield the other day, so we've sent him to the farm, brought him back, and we've really targeted that race up the straight on Oaks Day.
"He'll be pretty hard to beat, I'd think.
"Then Age Of Chivalry on the last day, we've kept him to the mark, nice trial the other day, to run over 1400 on the last day."
This year's Melbourne Cup Carnival will be significant for Ellerton and Zahra, as it will be their last in partnership together.
For Zahra, there are a couple of special moments that stand out when he reflects upon the previous Cup Carnivals he's worked at alongside Ellerton.
"Two highlights for me are obviously Casual Pass winning the Mackinnon as a three-year-old, that was early on in our career, and he was such a great horse for us, that was a big day," he said.
"Aristia winning the Oaks, with the combination Mathew, Damian (Lane) and First Light.
"That was probably the biggest highlight for us over those weeks.
"It's been a great 21 years and hopefully another good 21 years after on my own."
Zahra revealed that after the partnership ends in December, both he and Ellerton will continue training at the headquarters of racing in Melbourne.
"We've got two stables at Flemington, so basically Mathew will go one side and I'll go the other," he said.
"Obviously, got to build it all up again, so I'll end up with probably 50 to 60 horses, try and build the team up again.
"It's going to be a quieter time for a while, but I'll enjoy getting out there and getting my hands dirty."