Fellowship announces arrival in big time
Blistering run leaves trainer, jockey and handicapper mightily impressed
Paul O'Sullivan is steering impressive National Day Cup hero Fellowship towards the international races after the O'Reilly six-year-old emphatically announced his arrival as a big-time player at Sha Tin yesterday.
Fellowship gave O'Sullivan his first winner of the new season, and landed a huge betting move in the process as he rounded up his rivals with contemptuous ease at the 300 metres before racing clear.
Handicapper Nigel Gray later described Fellowship's turn of foot as 'almost spine-tingling' and said he definitely deserved his chance in the bigger races if he confirmed the evidence of yesterday's race.
Douglas Whyte balanced Fellowship in the concluding stages while Californiamountain and Tiber made play out in front. He was a couple of lengths further back than many anticipated and the 'Durban Demon' said that was the key to the improved performance.
'He trialled enormous for me the other day and was really motoring at the finish,' Whyte said. 'I think Paul might have found the key to him in not over-training him. He seems to have left an edge on him that helps him quicken when I ask for it.
'Also today, he was three or four lengths further back than he has been but then he rounded them up in a matter of strides. In fact, he went so quickly that I thought I hit the front too early, but that was the same turn of foot he showed when he trialled.
'I've ridden him a few times before and every time I've thought, 'I'll just tack over, make a bit of use of him and be handy', but it's clearly not the way to ride him.'
From the moment Whyte pulled Fellowship to the outside at the top of the straight, the punters who backed him from $83 to $46 favourite never had a moment's worry.
The gelding fairly floated over the final 100 metres, pricked his ears for the camera and allowed Sunny King (Eric Saint-Martin) and Hawkes Bay (Brett Prebble) to narrow the margin to three-quarters of a length.
O'Sullivan was delighted to see 'the old Fellowship' turn up with that electrifying change of gears, rather than the one-paced model we had come to know last term.
'He has never been that far back in a race here,' O'Sullivan said.
'Last season, he was grinding home but today he had a real ping. What's great about the win today is we've not only got him back in form, but it also looks as though we've learned something.'
Next start for Fellowship will be the Group Three Mission Hills Sha Tin Trophy over 1,600 metres on October 26.
That race is run under handicap conditions and will be the start-off point for many December international hopefuls.
'If he wins that, then we have no option but to go to the International Mile Trial [November 23] with him,' O'Sullivan added.
'Ideally, I'd like to find an easier target but by that stage there would be nothing else for him.'
Gray said Fellowship's performance would probably merit an international rating of 'around 110'.
'Naturally, I'd like to see him confirm that form again in the Sha Tin Trophy but if he does, then he would be a worthy candidate for the Mile Trial.'
David Hall said Hawkes Bay had been a victim of an inside barrier, which kept the gelding locked away with nowhere to go while Fellowship swooped with clear running out wide.
'Let's just say I think we should have gone very close,' Hall said. 'I would have loved Hawkes Bay to be out wide where Fellowship was to make his run, but he drew barrier two and that dictated where he settled.'