Leading harness racing trainer Ross Olivieri describes Western Cullen as a 'high-class horse with high speed' and he is confident the New Zealand-bred gelding will prove hard to beat in the $125,000 Premier Suzuki Golden Slipper Stakes at Gloucester Park on Friday night.
Western Cullen has not appeared at trials since entering Olivieri's stables just over three weeks ago, but he has been working in dashing style for his Australian debut.
He is the solitary back-line runner in the field of ten which will contest this prestigious group 1 event for two-year-olds.
Olivieri, who has prepared the winner of the Golden Slipper three times --- with Harry Gun in 1995, Saab (1997) and Talladega (1999) --- said that if there was any risk or any doubt that Western Cullen was not ready to produce a powerful effort he would not start him in the Golden Slipper.
Western Cullen, owned by Paul and Tony Poli, has earned $191,323 from his two wins and three placings from five New Zealand starts. He has not raced since he led briefly in the first lap and then trailed the pacemaker Fly Like An Eagle before fighting on to finish third to that pacer and Alberto Contador in the group 1 $150,000 Emerald at Ashburton Raceway on June 4.
The winner covered the 1609m classic in a brilliant 1.54.6, with the final 800m being covered in 55.7sec. and the last 400m in 26.6sec.
In his two wins, both over 1950m at Addington, Western Cullen has impressed greatly in sprinting the final 400m section in 27.5sec. and 27.3sec.
He has yet to race beyond 1950, but Olivieri declared that the extra distance (2100m) of the Golden Nugget would not pose any sort of problem."He's a very laid back fellow and he'll have no trouble with the distance," Olivieri said.
Olivieri added that he was confident that Western Cullen would have no problems in negotiating the 805m Gloucester Park circuit after all his five starts in New Zealand were on much bigger tracks.
"I didn't think it was necessary to take him to trials," he said. "I've been working him on an 800m track at Byford and even though I haven't asked him for anything special in his work, his workout last Friday morning was very good. "He's a big horse and it does pose some difficulty racing on a smaller track. We're putting a pole on him because he's been coming in a little on the bends. So he needs a little help to get round the bends. It's just fine tuning.
"Olivieri holds a strong hand in the Golden Slipper with three runners --- Western Cullen, Tightrope and Red Salute.
Tightrope, handily drawn at barrier three in the Slipper, notched his third win when he gave a solid frontrunning performance to win by a length from Dredlock Rockstar over 2100m at Gloucester Park last Friday night.
Red Salute (barrier nine) warmed up for the classic in fine style when he raced without cover before dashing to the front with 400m to travel and crossing the finish line, hard held by Greg Kersley, to win a 2150m trial at Byford last Sunday by a length from Mister Pinocchio. He sprinted the final 400m in 28.8sec.
PGG WRIGHTSON NZ YEARLING SALES SERIES 2YO OPEN (FINAL) (Listed)