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Puccini Ready For Australian Cup
Matamata trainer Peter McKay will use Saturday's Gr1 Australian Cup to gauge where his star galloper Puccini sits among Australasia's best middle distance performers, reports NZ Racing Desk. The dual Gr1 winner takes on a high-class field in the Flemington 2000m weight-for-age feature, among them Melbourne Cup winner Protectionist, England's greatest stakes earner Red Cadeaux and three-time Gr1 winner Happy Trails. "We just hope he can compete well against [Australia's] best and then we'll know where we are," McKay said. "We've managed to get him to settle in his races now and hopefully with a good tempo, he'll be able to settle back and make a big run late." McKay pressed on with plans to tackle the Australian Cup despite only managing eighth place in the Gr1 WFA Classic, citing an "over-watered" Otaki track as the reason for his poor run that day and saying he was pleased with his charge's condition since. He has engaged Singapore-based Melbourne jockey Craig Newitt to ride, with the hoop already booked to return to Melbourne to partner star sprinter Lankan Rupee in the Gr1 Newmarket Handicap. "He's a top rider and his stats stack up really well for Melbourne racing and especially for Flemington. He's won 100 races around Flemington and it was nice to be able to get a good rider," McKay said. McKay will assess Puccini's performance in Saturday's Australian Cup before deciding on the next step for the Encosta De Lago 4YO , with options including the $3 million Gr1 Doncaster Mile at Randwick on April 4, the $4 million Gr1 Queen Elizabeth Stakes (2000m) at the same venue a week later, or staying in Victoria for the Listed Mornington Cup (2400m) on March 23. "We've just got to see what happens on Saturday. If he can run in the first four or five, we'll reassess what we are going to do, whether we carry on or whether we think he's had enough for the season," McKay said. "If he does run in the first four or five and it's a good, close finish, we will carry on."