License article

Trainer John O'Shea says Exosphere will strike in Lightning Stakes

Trainer John O'Shea has always placed great faith in stable jockey James McDonald's ability to ride with instinct and the trainer is hoping that same unique quality will be on display when Exosphere attempts to win Saturday's $750,000 group one Lightning Stakes at Flemington.

O'Shea said that one of the appealing features of the former Kiwi jockey was that he never panicked in difficult situations in major races.

But O'Shea makes no secret that Exosphere faces one his toughest assignments so far in his short but successful career.

"To start with, he's never been up the straight – which is always a challenge in itself – and he's never competed in weight-for-age, with Saturday's race being a first on both counts," O'Shea said.

Exosphere has shown extraordinary talent on the way to Saturday's Lightning Stakes but, the 1000-metre dash has attracted a small but talented field of some of Australia's finest speedsters.

Collectively, the group of seven has won over $8 million in prizemoney inpreparations.


"I know people say it's just a small field but they can be particularly difficult races to cope with tactically because you get one jockey who decides to give his mount a kick in the ribs and he unexpectedly goes to the front and all the pre-race plans disappear," O'Shea said.

"That's why I never give James instructions that will tie him down. He knows how to cope under pressure and, let's face it, the race will be over in 60 seconds.

"That's where jockeys like James come into their own. They manage to make the best out of a bad situation and they can put one plan aside for another. So I won't be troubling him with other strategies.".

This year's Lightning Stakes is a vintage one. While Exosphere is a $2.50 favourite, his greatest challenger will naturally be Chautauqua – a winner of over $3.4 million in prizemoney – and has raced six times at Flemington for three wins and three seconds and is undefeated over the thousand metres. A form profile not lost on O'Shea.

"He's a very, very good horse and he's done everything. He's won at weight-for-age, he's won up the straight – two things that we're attempting to do on Saturday.

"Saturday will be a yardstick considering the horses we are pitted against.

"We might come back three weeks later and run in the Newmarket or might just go to Sydney and have him ready for the TJ Smith Stakes at Randwick.

Flemington's first group-one of the year sees Exosphere narrowly holding on to favouritism against Chautauqua.

Exosphere, like the Chris Waller-trained Japonisme and Kinglike, are all three-year-olds, an age group with an indifferent record in the Lightning Stakes.

Three-year-olds dominated the Lightning between 1986 and 2005, winning 12 of the 20 races, but since then they have not prevailed.

Fastnet Rock was the last of his age group to do it in 2005. Since then, 22 three-year-olds have tried with only God's Own finishing second to Takeover Target in 2006.