Mark Zahra punches home Spanish Reef in the Group 2 Sunline Stakes (Image: Racing Photos)

Spanish Reef, pictured winning the 2018 Sunline Stakes (Image: Racing Photos)

Keys keen on Sunline defence

Ken Keys can’t fault the form and condition of his stable star Spanish Reef as she prepares to defend her Sunline Stakes (1600m) crown at The Valley on Friday night.

Like she did in 2018, the daughter of Lope De Vega is chasing the Matron Stakes – Sunline Stakes double en route to Sydney for a tilt at the Group 1 Coolmore Legacy (1600m).

The mare handed Samovare a three length defeat in the Sunline Stakes last year before finishing unplaced behind Alizee in the Colmore Legacy during The Championships and Keys believes the five-year-old is going just as well this campaign.

“She’s going equally as well as when she won it last year, although I think she’s a stronger mare this time in,” Keys said.

“It’s a race that fits her program nicely and I couldn’t have her any better.

“I’ve had a look through the nominations, there are no standouts but it looks like there are a few up and comers.

“Win, lose or draw we’ll head to Sydney again for the Group 1 next, we won’t die wondering.

“She’d come to the end of it by the time she got to Sydney last year so I think we’ll see a better performance from her up there this time, she’ll have had one less run and there’s a bit more left in the tank.”

WATCH: Spanish Reef's last-start Matron Stakes win.

Spanish Reef, who started the $2.35 favourite in last year’s race and is the second-highest rated horse among the nominations this year, is the well-supported $2.50 top elect in Sportsbet’s all-in market for Friday’s $200,000 feature, with Naantali ($5.50) the only other mare in single figures.

Group 1 winner I Am A Star, who is a three-time Group 2 winner over the track and distance, is the highest-rated horse among the nominations and is next in betting at $10, while Kiwi filly Consensus, a last-start placegetter for Stephen McKee in the Group 1 Haunui Classic (1600m), is rated a $14 prospect.