Day At The Track

Eden Franco is ready to fire

05:15 PM 28 Mar 2019 NZDT
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Eden Franco,Harness racing
Eden Franco
Gloucester Park

Ace trainer-reinsman Colin Brown confidently predicts that top-flight mare Eden Franco is fit and ready to bounce back from a last-start last placing eight weeks ago by proving hard to beat in the $50,000 Glenroy Chaff Empress Stakes over 2536m at Gloucester Park on Friday night.

“There were excuses for her last-start failure,” Brown admitted. “She pulled up sore in the off-side knee and fetlock and we backed off with her for a while. But she’s been down to the beach every day and has been galloping in good style in recent weeks.

“There’s no problem with her now and she is probably the fittest I’ve ever had her. I’m rapt with the draw (No. 2 on the front line) and you would think that she would lead. But if she breezes, she breezes, and we’ll run even quarters. Obviously, she would be better off in front. But if that’s not to be, so be it.”

Eden Franco a New Zealand-bred six-year-old by Christian Cullen, has been lightly raced and boasts a marvellous record of 34 starts for 14 wins, 11 seconds and four thirds for $187,465 in stakes.

Eight weeks ago, Eden Franco resumed after a two-month absence when she started out wide at barrier eight in the City of Perth Cup. She was restrained to the rear and did not threaten danger at any stage.

At her previous appearance, in the Group 1 Mares Classic on December 7, she began brilliantly from barrier nine, was forced five wide for the first 200m before surging to the front 100m later and then setting the pace before finishing second, beaten a head in the final stride by 90/1 outsider Millview Sienna.

“We’ll kick around in mares’ races for a little while and then aim for the big races for mares in the summer,” said Brown who trained and drove Sand Pebbles to victory over Party Date in the 2004 Empress Stakes. “We would certainly like to pick up a Group 1 with her before she retires. She probably will go into foal before those big races.”

One of Eden Franco’s main rivals on Friday night is expected to be five-year-old Madame Meilland, who will be driven from the prized No. 1 barrier by champion reinsman Chris Lewis for eight-time WA premier trainer Ross Olivieri.

Lewis and Olivieri hold the records for the greatest number of wins in the Empress Stakes, which was first run in 1969. Lewis has driven the winner eight times, scoring with Candy Nacray (1988), Armbro Lucy (1992), Meggie Dear (2001), Classical Mover (2002), Shes Royalty (2007), Ima Spicey Lombo (2011) and Sensational Gabby (2014 and 2015).

Olivieri has won the race five times with Elysees Crest (2010), Ima Spicey Lombo (2011), Sensational Gabby (2014 and 2015) and Madame Meilland (2018).

Twelve months ago, Madame Meilland, driven by Shannon Suvaljko, started at 7/1 from the No. 2 barrier. She enjoyed a perfect trail, one-out and one-back, before finishing strongly to get up and beat the pacemaker and 7/4 on favourite Better B Chevron by a head. Lewis brought the Olivieri-trained Sheer Rocknroll with a spirited burst from last at the bell to finish third.

Star reinsman Gary Hall Jnr had the choice of four drives in Friday night’s Group 2 feature event and he has given punters a good lead by opting to handle the Kevin Keys-trained Sarah Goody ahead of Just Rockon Bye (Stuart McDonald), Our Major Mama (Aiden de Campo) and Beaudiene Beach Babe (Nathan Turvey).

Sarah Goody has resumed after an absence of seven months in fine style with impressive victories, when she led first-up over 2536m and beat Luis Alberto at Gloucester Park and second-up in the Golden Girls Mile at Pinjarra on Monday afternoon when she started from the back line and surged home from three back on the pegs to win decisively from the odds-on favourite and pacemaker Our Alfie Romeo, with final quarters of 27.2sec. and 27.7sec.

Keys was delighted with Sarah Goody’s performance at Pinjarra and said that the mare had the ability to overcome the disadvantage of starting from the outside of the back line on Friday night.

“The leader ran 54.9sec. (for the final 800m) and Sarah Goody gave her a good four lengths on straightening up and got over her comfortably on the line,” Keys said. Our Major Mama finished boldly from tenth at the bell to be a sound third.

Our Alfie Romeo, prepared by leading trainers Greg and Skye Bond, cannot be overlooked despite her wide draw at No. 8. She had won at each of her five previous starts before her second in the Golden Girls Mile. Her past 18 starts have produced 12 wins. The Bond camp has finished second in the past two Empress Stakes --- with Jungle Jewel behind The Parade in 2017 and Better B Chevron behind Madame Meilland last year.

The Annie Belton-trained Lady De La Renta will start from the inside of the back line and is capable of unwinding a powerful late burst for Kim Prentice, who drove her to a stylish victory over the pacemaker Miss Sangrial, rating 1.54.6 over 1730m after working in the breeze all the way at Gloucester Park last Friday night.

Ken Casellas

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