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No one is happier than Ciaron Maher to see the Group 1 Turnbull Stakes announced as a two-horse match race between Verry Elleegant and Incentivise.
Maher, who trains with David Eustace, has three of the remaining eight starters in the $1 million Flemington game on Saturday.
Reigning Cox Plate champ Sir Dragonet gets a $9 chance with TAB to beat Verry Elleegant ($2.40) and Incentivize ($2.80).
Persan ($18) and double Group 1 derby beast Explosive Jack ($34) cap the Maher-Eustace triple treat.
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“The hype is great, but it’s by no means a two-horse race, no, no,” Maher said.
“Actually, I’m very happy with the three of them.
“Sir Dragonet was super (in the Makybe Diva) and Explosive Jack poked that nicely behind them and probably flew a bit under the radar.
“Persan had a grueling run behind Floating Artist, who re-franked the form. He’s not the worst either and comes in with a nice weight.”
Verry Elleegant wins the 2020 TAB Turnbull Stakes. Photo: Brett Holburt – Race Photos via Getty Images
Persan won on the corresponding day last year, beating the Group 3 The Bart Cummings to take the gold ticket to the Melbourne Cup.
While Persan and Explosive Jack should find prominent spots forward and in midfield, Maher relies on the craft of jockey Ben Allen to find cover for Sir Dragonet from barrier 10.
Allen established himself first in midfield in the Makybe Diva Stakes and despite giving Peter Moody-trained Incentivize a six length start in the straight third, Sir Dragonet came within half a length.
“Moods’ horses are clearly a pacemaker and accelerate that, so imagine he will do the same,” Maher said.
“Dragon finished the last start well, I would say the extra distance will be ideal for him. It was a huge run
“I think he’s come on better (this campaign), we know the horse better, he was a little chilly there in the fall and then we bolted him up when he went to Sydney.
“That was our first preparation from the start, we just knew the horse better.”
Another strong performance and especially a win against the odds would see Allen in the box to keep the ride on Sir Dragonet and looking forward to the $5 million Cox Plate.
“Ben is a quality jockey, probably a little limited by his weight now, but he does a lot for us and he’s always been a very quality jockey I think,” said Maher.
“I wanted someone to stay with the horse, he’s kind of his own man and Ben has done a lot with him and that came out first. If he beats him on Saturday, he’ll be in the driver’s seat next time.”
Verry Elleegant is still the subject of continued interest in betting at TAB, including a $5,000 bet on the champion mare placed at $1.22.
Colette has calmed down after confirmation from Racing Victoria stewards that the Godolphin mare is developing a foot abscess.
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