Queensland: Beautiful one day, Eagle Farm and warm beer the next Loading 3rd party ad content Loading 3rd party ad content Loading 3rd party ad content Loading 3rd party ad content

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By Max Presnell

Like beer off the wood at the Breakfast Creek pub, Eagle Farm’s Stradbroke Handicap has always been quaintly Queensland and an acquired taste.

A battle ground for greats with big fields and navigational skills at a premium, the Stradbroke requires bold tactics. The touch of Rachel King handling local sprinter Vega One, who ticks all the credential boxes, will be on show on Saturday.

Going back to 1890 the sprint, now 1400 metres, is champion shy. The last great horse (a cog below the elite category) to score was Rough Habit in 1992. Rough Habit carried the equal metric weight record of 58.5kg and came from gate 20 under Jim Cassidy for whom, unlike modern-day counterparts, a wide barrier held no fears.

The poise of Rachel King will be an asset  aboard  Vega One in the Stradbroke Handicap.

The poise of Rachel King will be an asset aboard Vega One in the Stradbroke Handicap.Credit:Getty Images

Rough Habit won the 1995 O’Shea Stakes, which is now the group two The Q22 (2200m), but hardly with the fanfare of Zaaki, who produced a contender for best performance of the season in demolishing the Doomben Cup last start.

However, the key factor could be the Eagle Farm surface, which was rated by Brisbane wise guys as being harder on the hoof and possible tender joints than the more forgiving Doomben.

Already Zaaki’s trainer, Annabel Neasham, who has had success in the saddle in the Mongol Derby over steppes and distance that would test a trail bike, hopes that water falls on Eagle Farm, either from clouds or irrigation.

Certainly Friday’s good four was made to order for Vega One, which was triumphant last start over the Eagle Farm 1300m on May 29 under Jamie Kah, for which she received the “ride of the year” accolade from Best Bets.

Mind you, had she been beaten it would have been one of the “no luck” bleats as she was in all sorts of trouble before getting out.

Zaaki was in a race of his own when he won the Doomben Cup.

Zaaki was in a race of his own when he won the Doomben Cup.Credit:Michael McInally/Racing Queensland

Kah, the Melbourne-based South Australian, is an immense talent gifted with the knack that horses respond magnificently for her. Due to Covid, she is stranded down south thus King – developed in Sydney by Gai Waterhouse after struggling in the UK – is in the Vega One hot seat to become the first of her gender to take the Stradbroke.

To my eye, the King poise fits the saddle better but nothing beats winning and that’s where Kah, perhaps not as refined, shines. Kah jumped Vega One from 13; King has four. The five-year-old drops from 59kg last start to 54kg today and has two successes from four attempts over the Eagle Farm 1400m. One of the defeats was fourth in the Stradbroke last year, downed under a length after launching from barrier 15.

It’s a star-studded program, although the 3200m Brisbane Cup must have a slippery grip on group 2 status considering there were only seven acceptors including Knights Order, a promising Irish-bred from the Waterhouse-Adrian Bott stable who could hit a new high after winning at Rosehill last Saturday.

The hard surface could be a query for Knights Order, but not so for stablemate Converge in the group 1 J.J. Atkins considering his strong second in the Sires Produce (1400m) on a good four ground at Eagle Farm last start when beaten 0.2 of a length by Tiger Of Malay, which is a major rival again today over the metric mile.

Converge should have won. Expected to be on the pace, the gelding came from the rear and stewards reported he was “momentarily held up for clear running passing the 300 metres”; more chopped out and jagged around heels, the difference between “ride of the day” and dismal defeat.

And what’s beer off the wood at the Breakfast Creek? Timber kegs are placed on the bar counter and poured to perfection, prompting the question of wouldn’t the brew get hot in the Brisbane heat.

“You don’t think it would last that long,” was the answer.

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