Mick Price added another contender to his strong spring team when lightly raced three-year-old Nordic Empire scored an impressive win in the Mitchelton Wines Handicap (1000 metres) at Moonee Valley on Saturday.
''We’ll probably have to run him in the Vain Stakes now and put him into stakes company,'' said Price, who also has former smart two-year-olds Jabali and Cornrow aimed at the same race at Caulfield on August 16.
Nordic Empire was resuming after a lengthy spell, but at his first start he had beaten Zululand, who later won a group 2 race.
''He had to hit the line and after eight months off. I hope there’s improvement to come in the horse, so hopefully he goes just as well second up,'' Price said.
After jumping well from the inside gate, Craig Newitt had Nordic Empire ($5 favourite) perfectly placed just behind the leaders. After easing over their heels as they straightened, he quickly raced away to win by 1 3/4 lengths from Stingray ($15) with Boomwaa ($6.50) a short half-head away third.
''He’s a really nice horse,'' Newitt said. ''He was nice and relaxed in behind and when I asked him to pick up from the 450 he was really strong.''
It was the second leg of a winning double for Newitt, who won the first race on Bagman ($3.70) as replacement rider for Damien Oliver, who was sidelined by a foot injury.
Down The Hatch, trained by Robbie Griffiths, will contest the listed Quezette Stakes at Caulfield on Saturday week after graduating from a Sale maiden win to take out the National Jockeys Celebration Day Handicap (1000 metres).
Down The Hatch ($21) was on-speed all the way and showed plenty of determination in the straight to hold off her challengers, beating Afleet Esprit ($9) by three-quarters of a length.
Griffiths had taken a shine to Down The Hatch as a foal and her breeder Kevin Wacey told him that if she was not sold he could train her. After the filly was passed in at the yearling sales, Wacey sent her to Griffiths.
Griffiths said he had nominated Down The Hatch for the listed Lightning Stakes in Adelaide last Saturday week but decided a trip away might be a bit much for her at this stage of her career.
''We opted for this race instead and thought if she ran well we’d look at a stakes race in the coming weeks if she is fit and well,''’ he said.
Tough galloper The Cleaner did not get his own way in front but was able to dig deep in the straight to hold off his rivals in the Jeep Don't Hold Back Handicap (1600 metres).
First Course stuck with The Cleaner ($2.30 favourite) all the way and the Tasmanian looked under siege at the 150 metres, but was drawing away on the line to win by 1 1/2 lengths from Fast And Free ($9), who had every chance.
The Cleaner’s trainer Mick Burles now plans to run the seven-year-old in the group 2 Dato Tan Chin Nam Stakes (1600 metres) at Moonee Valley on September 6.
''I think he’s up to them and I hope to get a group race behind him,'' said Burles, who has not even ruled out a tilt at the Cox Plate.
''I’ll probably nominate him for the Cox Plate. Who knows, if he wins the Dato he’s automatically in.''