Even after a couple of lazy weeks in hotel quarantine, Australian Olympic sprint pin-up Rohan Browning clocked a sizzling 11.46 seconds over 100 metres to upstage The Everest hope Lost And Running at Sydney's Randwick course on Monday.
Given a 120m head start by Lost And Running and his jockey, Hugh Bowman, Browning channelled his inner thoroughbred, pinning back his ears to thunder past the winning post a couple of lengths clear.
The time was much slower than the 10.01 seconds he posted to win his heat at the Tokyo Olympics, but Browning was running in a pair of white football boots and on a rain-affected track rated a "slow five" by Randwick staff.
"I'll be a bit sore tomorrow," said Browning, after his 24th foot race of the season.
Lost And Running's trainer Josh O'Shea quipped afterwards: "Rohan was humming. I said to him, 'I'll make sure you win', but I think we underestimated how good he is."
Bowman wanted to time Lost and Running's run to ensure a close finish, but realised halfway up the straight the Olympic sprinter had already bolted.
"Had I got the revs up too quickly on I wouldn't have been able to slow down, but halfway through I realised I wouldn't get there. He beat us by about two lengths," Bowman said.
The Man versus Horse event was part of the build-up to Saturday's A$15 million (NZ$15.8 million) Everest sprint, which received a boost on Monday when Premier Dominic Perrottet approved an exemption for 10,000 punters to attend.
The Everest raceday at Royal Randwick will be the first major event since the end of Sydney's Covid-19 lockdown.
A Covid-safe proposal by the Australian Turf Club to have one person for every four square metres was given the green light by the NSW government.
Only 5000 people are allowed to attend major events under the NSW road map with the state's vaccination rate at 70 per cent double dose.
The ATC will now reallocate tickets to members on a waiting list and make further use of outdoor spaces for the event, which will require patrons to provide proof of full vaccination status upon entering Royal Randwick.
Back on the track, while Browning's famous mullet caught the eye, so did the ribs of Lost And Running – a good sign a horse is fit and ready to peak.
But just as 23-year-old Browning's Tokyo experience will help him be better again by the time the Paris Games roll around in 2024, O'Shea knows Lost And Running's hopes of winning the A$15 million (NZ$15.8 million) Everest will be more realistic in 12 months' time.
"Under normal circumstances next year will be his best year, but we didn't want to miss this opportunity to season him," O'Shea told the Sydney Morning Herald .
"I'm a great student of history. If you look at Classique Legend, he had to run in one The Everest to win one. Rugby league teams often lose a grand final to win one. We think he'll run very well on Saturday, but the run will lay the foundations for next year and he will be more seasoned again.
"He hasn't had ten career runs, and we're very proud of what he has already done. The natural improvement he will make from his second run to his third run [this campaign] will see him be competitive. I gave Hugh an undertaking I'd have the horse ready on the day – and he will be ready on the day."
Lost And Running cost just A$40,000 (NZ$42,300), and one of the last times O'Shea outlaid similar money was for his popular grey Racing To Win, who went on to amass nearly $3.7 million (NZ$3.9 million) in prizemoney.
He rated The Everest "the fifth major" and unlike the Melbourne Cup where the Australian public no longer had any idea about the race because "they don't know who the horses are".
"This race we know the horses, we can follow their form for 12 months, the money is big, but the machinations of the deals, who picks what horse, it's what makes it so interesting," O'Shea said. "The purists will say this race isn't a major, but everyone else says it is."
Bowman said Lost And Running had "gone from schoolboy footy to first grade in the one preparation", but would need to find again to be competitive as he races for slow owners the TAB.
He rated Nature Strip the horse to beat in a red-hot field and the key for jockeys riding in the mega-rich Sydney spring feature was "holding your nerve" and not going too early.
Sydney Morning Herald
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