Champion reinsman Chris Lewis has given punters an important lead by choosing to drive Gotta Go Gabbana in the $50,000 Simmonds Steel Empress Stakes at Gloucester Park on Friday night.
Lewis had the difficult choice of deciding between the Annie Belton-trained Gotta Go Gabbana, the Justin Prentice-trained Pick My Pocket and the Barry Howlett-trained Dancing With Mach, three of the leading candidates in the 2536m Group 2 feature event for mares.
He opted for the tough stayer Gotta Go Gabbana, who faces the task of overcoming the disadvantage of starting from the outside (No. 9) on the front line, ahead of Pick My Pocket, perfectly drawn at the No. 1 barrier, and Dancing With Mach, who is favourably drawn at barrier two.
Prentice will handle Pick My Pocket and Morgan Woodley has been engaged for Dancing With Mach.
Lewis drove Gotta Go Gabbana when she finished an extremely close third behind Parisian Partygirl and American Delight in the Golden Girls Mile over 1684m at Pinjarra on Monday afternoon. She had enjoyed an ideal passage in the one-out, one-back position before finishing with a spirited burst.
Gotta Go Gabbana had caused a false start to the race when she broke in the score-up and this resulted in her being excluded from the barrier draw in mobile events.
Lewis has an outstanding record in the 50-year history of the Empress Stakes, having won the event a record eight times, scoring with Candy Macray (1988), Ambro Lucy (1992), Meggie Dear (2001), Classical Mover (2002), Shes Royalty (2007), Ima Spicey Lombo (2011) and Sensational Gabby (2014 and 2015).
Pick My Pocket ran a sound trial for Friday night’s race when she trailed the pacemaker Rosies Ideal and finished fourth in the Golden Girls Mile, just a half-length from the winner Parisian Partygirl in a blanket finish involving the entire field of 12 runners.
Prentice, who prepared Major Reality (2016) and The Parade (2017) for wins in the Empress Stakes, will also be represented this week by talented four-year-old Dracarys, a winner at 13 of her 25 starts who will be resuming after a two-month absence. Dracarys will start from the No. 4 barrier.
Dancing With Mach gave a superb performance in a 2130m event for mares last Friday night when she started out wide at barrier eight, raced three wide for the first 550m and then in the breeze before fighting on grimly to be a nose second to the pacemaker Caruba.
Capel trainer-driver Aiden de Campo will be looking for a strong effort from four-year-old American Delight, who is awkwardly drawn at barrier six. American Delight was most impressive in the Golden Girls Mile when she started from the outside of the back line and was tenth at the bell before charging home, six wide, to finish a head second to Parisian Partygirl, who surged home from fifth (on the pegs) at the bell rated 1.53.6.
Seven-year-old Parisian Partygirl is the oldest runner in Friday night’s race and is, by far, the most experienced with 115 starts producing 12 wins and 44 placings. Trained at Bindoon by Bernard James and driven by Kyle Harper, Parisian Partygirl will start from barrier three and is capable of unwinding a powerful finish burst.
Leading trainers Greg and Skye Bond will be pinning their faith on Our Alfie Romeo, who has had 43 starts for 19 wins, seven seconds and two thirds. She will start from the inside of the back line, with Ryan Warwick in the sulky.
Our Alfie Romeo made a spirited but unsuccessful bid for the early lead in the Golden Girls Mile and then raced outside the pacemaker Rosies Ideal before taking a narrow lead 100m from the post and finishing sixth, less than a length behind the winner.
The Bond stable is due to break through for its first win in the Empress Stakes after second placings in the past three group 2 features, the runners-up being Jungle Jewel (2017), Better B Chevron (2018) and Our Alfie Romeo (2019), with the losing margin in the past two being just a head. Ryan Warwick, who handled those three Bond runners, was successful in the event behind the Grant Williams-trained Asian Paradise in 2005.
Last year Our Alfie Romeo (from out wide at barrier eight) raced wide early and then in the breeze before taking a narrow lead 400m from home and being beaten in the final stride by the fast-finishing $59.60 outsider Miss Sangrial.
Miss Sangrial, prepared by Michael Brennan, faces a stern test from the No. 8 barrier on Friday night. She will be driven by Stuart McDonald, who replaces Michael Grantham, who is serving a ten-day term of suspension for causing interference in a race at Pinjarra on Monday.