Third Time Lucky For Santa The Everest Underdog

By Ray Hickson

Sprint warhorse Santa Ana Lane has come full circle – from an under the radar ambusher to bona fide star and back to being the underdog.

Co-trainer Sam Freedman (Pic: Grant Guy).

Truth be told, co-trainer Sam Freedman is comfortable with ‘Santa’ being totally underestimated going into his third TAB Everest at Randwick on Saturday.

Sure his first-up run this spring was fair but $26 for a horse with a Group 1 Randwick 1200m win to his name and seconds in the TAB Everest and TJ Smith Stakes in the past 12 months is bordering on offensive.

“We’re pretty happy about it. When he flies under the radar a little bit he sneaks up on his opposition,’’ Freedman said.

“A lot of the commentary around him is he’s finished and what have you.

“But we are always going to do the best thing by the horse and we think there is plenty of life in him, if he wasn’t deserving or willing to be there then we wouldn’t be there.

“We think he is there to shake things up.”

His first three Group 1 wins came at $26, $26 and $14 and even in his fourth, at Flemington, he was a $10 chance. Only then was he given respect and in 11 starts since that victory he’s only started double figures once.

Santa Ana Lane started $9.50 in his first Everest in 2018 where he ran sixth behind Redzel on a heavy track and last year $5.50 was his assessment as he chased Yes Yes Yes home.

He might be an eight-year-old now but just six months ago the $7.7m earner chased Nature Strip home in a TJ Smith, on an unsuitably heavy track, and his form since is littered with Everest references.

A midfield finish behind Tofane in the All Aged and a similar spot in the Goodwood behind Trekking and Gytrash then that seemingly lacklustre first-up run in the Gilgai at Flemington two weeks ago have led to Santa falling out of favour.

Freedman warns against putting Santa on the naughty list.

“He’s the sort of horse that can run poorly, or average, first-up and jump out of the ground second-up,’’ he said.

“He is going to run a lot better second-up than what he did first-up regardless of how you see it.

“He’s won a Group 1 down the straight but it doesn’t suit his racing that much because they tend to go hard then sit up and then quicken again.

“It’s never a race shape that suits him. His best runs are always at Randwick at 1200m, we can’t fault him so he has no excuses not to be getting back to his best.”

After the Gilgai, Santa Ana Lane was given a change of routine and, coupled with the trip to Sydney, Freedman is expecting the gelding to be switched on for race day.

Sam Clipperton has TAB Everest ride and the gelding runs in the Coolmore slot.

Just ahead of Santa Ana Lane in the Gilgai was Group 1 winning mare Tofane and trainer Mike Moroney said she’s had a faultless preparation though concedes barrier 11 is a tricky draw for her.

The All Aged Stakes winner, $23 with TAB, didn’t have the best of luck down the straight but the plan Moroney set out to have her peaking third-up in the TAB Everest has gone to script.

“She came through it well and her work was up to her best on Tuesday,’’ he said.

“It would have been nice to have gone up as the winner of the Gilgai, with a bit of luck in running I think she would have been, but it wasn’t to be.”

Tofane ran an eye-catching fifth in the TJ Smith, where she clocked the fastest last 200m of the race, before her All Aged Stakes win where she was able to settle closer in the run.

Moroney said he’ll be giving his ‘five cents worth’ to jockey Tommy Berry about how he sees the race panning out but is largely leaving it up to Berry’s own map work.

“She has got gate speed but we just haven’t had any luck with barrier draws in Sydney,’’ he said.

“In the TJ, Opie (Bosson) decided to go back after beating them out and probably went back too far then she stormed home.

“She ticks all the boxes and if we happened to get a bit of rain it wouldn’t worry her, and she’s probably better right handed than left.”