The Bagot Handicap is a tempting target for Cranbourne trainer Mick Kent, one of the best conditioners of distance horses in the state. Photo: Vince Caligiuri
AS THE home of the Melbourne and Caulfield cups, Victoria is rightly regarded as the staying capital of Australia.
While other states have been busily reducing the distances of their premier staying races, Victorian officials are continually tinkering with the program to find new ways to encourage owners and trainers to breed staying horses.
One of the more established distance races on the Victorian program is the Bagot Handicap, a highlight of the New Year's Day card at Flemington. It is the next big stamina test on the horizon and it is a tempting target for Cranbourne trainer Mick Kent, one of the best conditioners of distance horses in the state.
Kent is likely to target the 2800-metre, $150,000 listed race with Saturday's impressive Flemington winner You Think So.
But Kent may also start veteran Unusual Suspect as he builds towards a tilt at the Auckland Cup in early March.
You Think So led all the way to win over 2550 metres at the weekend and the step up to the Bagot distance will hold no fears as the chestnut already has a 3000-metre win to his credit.
Unusual Suspect, who ran down the track in the Melbourne Cup, bounced back to form on December 16 when he carried 60.5 kilograms to score narrowly in the Werribee Cup over 2600 metres.
Kent rattled off the Mornington Cup, races in Tasmania or the Moonee Valley Night Series final as potential local targets for his stayers, although he suggested he would not make Bagot plans for Unusual Suspect until he knew what weight the former American-trained nine-year-old would receive.
''We were actually thinking we might go Bagot, Mornington Cup, Auckland Cup - that's the feeling,'' Kent said of Unusual Suspect's program, explaining that the logistics of travelling to New Zealand had made it difficult to aim the gelding at the Wellington Cup at the end of January, as he would have liked.
''You can't fly direct to Wellington, that's the problem. You have to fly to Auckland, it's 10 hours down, come back and leave him there for a month [until the Auckland Cup] and there's not much on, one little lead-up race the week before. At this stage he's probably going to run here.''
You Think So will also have a busy summer.
''There are so many options. The Moonee Valley Night Cup, the Mornington Cup, the Bagot … he's on an upward spiral. He's always shown a bit. We thought he would handle the wet, he's out of a Montjeu mare, but he's hopeless in it. His performance is better in the firm ground.''