The Melbourne Cup dream is alive for connections of Surprise Baby (NZ) (Shocking), the $5,500 gavelhouse graduate who has stormed into favouritism after booking his place in the race with victory in The Gr.3 Bart Cummings (2520m).
Trained by Paul Preusker at Horsham in country Victoria, this year’s Gr.2 Adelaide Cup (3200m) winner was sent out the $2.50 favourite in Saturday’s Bart Cummings (2500m) and under jockey Jordan Childs he finished over the top of his rivals to win by 1-1/2-lengths.
The victory earned the lightly raced five-year-old a ballot exemption into the $8 million Melbourne Cup (3200m) at Flemington on November 5 and the TAB reacted to the performance, halving the gelding’s Cup quote from $18 to $9 favourite.
Preusker had hoped Surprise Baby would gain the Cup ballot exemption in The Listed Andrew Ramsden (2800m) at Flemington in May but when he finished a close second to Steel Prince (Nathaniel), the trainer had to turn his attention to trying to qualify in The Bart Cummings.
“It was just a super ride and he’s a super horse,” Preusker said.
“The Ramsden sort of threw us a hurdle and we dealt with it.
“I think he’s the real deal.
“He probably wasn’t really wound up for this today but he’s a natural staying horse with a will to win.”
Surprise Baby has now won five of his 10 starts and Preusker is considering sending him into the Melbourne Cup without another run.
Childs had Surprise Baby just worse than midfield and the stayer still had work to do entering the home straight but made his run down the outside and charged to the lead at the 200m.
He defeated Supernova (Intello) with leader Wolfe (Novellist) holding third, another three-quarters of a length away.
The victory brought up a winning double on the day for Childs.
“I’m just happy for Paul and the whole team up at Horsham,” Childs said.
“They’ve done a fantastic job with these horses and for them to get a horse into the Melbourne Cup, it’s a massive thrill to be a part of it.”
Surprise Baby as an unraced three-year-old at Rich Hill Stud in New Zealand Photo: Gavelhouse.com
Surprise Baby has provided a stunning return on investment for owners John Fiteni and Kathy Stewart, who purchased the son of Shocking for just $5,500 from online auction gavelhouse.com as an unraced three-year-old.
Surprise Baby was bred by Rich Hill Stud, home to Melbourne Cup and Australian Cup winner Shocking, and the Walton farm also bred the most recent New Zealand bred winner of the Melbourne Cup, Prince Of Penzance (NZ) (Pentire).
“Surprise Baby was a nice horse,” Rich Hill Stud Managing Director John Thompson said.
“I took him to the New Zealand Bloodstock Select Sale and couldn’t sell him. I decided that he would make a Ready To Run horse and he just didn’t breeze up that well on the day.
“I still liked the horse, so I put him in work with Margaret Falconer with the idea of winning a trial and getting him sold.
“He proved a bit difficult and he never got to the trials early in his three-year-old season, so I thought we’d missed the boat.”
As a result, Thompson decided to list the untried galloper on gavelhouse.com, where he fetched $5,500 to the bid of John Fiteni.
“John bought the horse off gavelhouse pretty much sight unseen,” Thompson said. “He rang up and Paul Preusker came over to look at him after John had bought him.
“Paul said they were looking for a nice staying horse and I said to him that if he could get him to relax, he might make a nice staying horse and that he would be more a four or five-year-old because he was just mentally a bit immature.
“To win an Adelaide Cup at his sixth start and qualify for a Melbourne Cup at his tenth start is just a phenomenal training performance. He is one of the most exciting young stayers in Australia.”
While Thompson was left lamenting the sale of the progressive stayer as well as his dam Bula Baby, the affable studmaster could see nothing but positives for his young sire Shocking.
“His dam is a Kaapstad daughter of Miss Tessla, so she had a pedigree, but she hadn’t done a whole lot and I sold her on gavelhouse as well for $400 I think,” Thompson said.
“From a breeder’s perspective it’s not a great story but thank god I’ve still got Shocking.”
Mark and Lorraine Forbes’ Kiltannon Stables will present a Super Easy half brother to Surprise Baby at the forthcoming NZB Ready To Run Sale of 2YOs on 20-21 November.