Melbourne Cup-winning trainer Mark Delbridge is expecting significant improvement from classy youngsters Elite Alex and Ailee Bale as he chases more silverware in Saturday night’s Group 2 Launceston Cup Final (515m).
Elite Alex, Ailee Bale and kennelmate Landyn Bale all contested Monday night’s heats of the $60,000 to-the-winner Cup without the benefit of trialling at Launceston and after enduring an 11-hour boat trip.
Elite Alex, a superbly bred March ’21 son of Fernando Bale and Suffragette, winner of the G2 Launching Pad in 2017, started $1.85 favourite in his heat clash with David Geall’s defending Launceston Cup champion Hill Top Jack.
“If Elite Alex begins like he usually does, he should be in with a chance.”
A G3 Great Chase finalist last October, Elite Alex began well from box three and after finding the front rounding the first turn, opened up a decisive break in the back straight, going on to defeat Hill Top Jack by 2.5 lengths in 29.57sec.
It was the second quickest of the seven Cup heats, eclipsed only by local Wynburn Ruby’s 29.34sec.
Elite Alex has won nine from 16, posting flying 29.27sec and 29.84sec victories at Sandown Park and The Meadows respectively, in his last five appearances.
“They told me his second split (17.63sec) is really moving,” Delbridge said.
“Until the last heat, he was easily the quickest heat winner.”
WATCH: ELITE ALEX (B3) is the second fastest qualifier for Saturday night’s Group 2 Launceston Cup Final (515m) after a dominant 29.57sec heat victory over reigning champion HILL TOP JACK (B7).
Delbridge qualified his second finalist in the last heat, where Ailee Bale ($3.40), a litter sister to Melbourne Cup hero Yachi Bale and a G2 Laurels finalist, charged home from last to run second to fastest qualifier Wynburn Ruby, albeit beaten 5.25 lengths.
Delbridge’s third contender, G1 Silver Chief placegetter Landyn Bale, started $1.45 favourite in his heat, but after moving into second approaching the home turn, faded into fourth behind Vic-owned Dewana Gem.
“Ailee Bale only really went along for the ride with the two dogs,” Delbridge said.
“She was last on the first corner, so to get up and run second was a really good run. She’s gone quicker than all the other heat winners, except the dog that beat her and Elite Alex.
“They both should improve, because it was their first time on a boat, first time at a strange track – it was too hard to trial there – and in different kennels, I stayed with Gary Johnson.
“They were down a little bit in weight after the trip down, but didn’t lose anything coming back and they’ll be down there a day earlier this time.”
It’s fair to say Elite Alex and Ailee Bale handled the Bass Strait crossing better than their trainer, whose patience was tested by the lengthy journey, as Delbridge had his first runners in the Apple Isle since briefly relocating to Tasmania in 1996.
The box draw for Saturday night’s Cup Final – race 7 at 9.42pm – wasn’t kind to Delbridge’s duo, with Elite Alex drawing box five and Ailee Bale out in eight.
“All I’ve heard from the locals is you don’t want to draw wide at Launceston,” Delbridge offered.
“I would say Elite Alex is my best chance, because box eight is probably against Ailee Bale.
“It just depends on how Elite Alex gets out of the box. If he begins like he usually does, he should be in with a chance.
“I’m hoping ‘the red’ (Wynburn Ruby) gets pressured early, but if it leads clearly, it will probably win.”
2022 Cup winner Hill Top Jack is first reserve and relying on a scratching to have a shot at back-to-back victories.
Victoria will also be represented by Dewana Gem (box 2), raced by the Dewan family’s Dozus Two Syndicate, and 29.86sec heat winner Nyah Nyah Flyer (box 4), owned by Matt Lanigan and the Nyah Two Lads Syndicate.
In exciting news ahead of the ‘Unmissable’ Australian Cup Carnival, Delbridge confirmed his dual G1 Sale Cup winner Jarick Bale will be fit to defend his G1 Rookie Rebel (600m) title on Saturday week (February 11).
“He’ll be a bit underdone,” Delbridge conceded.
“I trialled him box-to-box at The Meadows on Monday and he went 18.20-odd, which was okay, and he’ll have a 390m at Ballarat on Saturday.”
Delbridge added that Melbourne Cup victor Yachi Bale will revert to sprinting for the Australian Cup heats, with the jury still out on his middle distance credentials.