Django Freeman at Werribee (Image: Jarrad Dooley)
No Melbourne trainer can boast the depth of experience with imported horses in recent seasons as Robert Hickmott, so his report on the first 11 days in Melbourne of intriguing German horse Django Freeman carries a deal of weight.
And thankfully for Hickmott and a syndicate put together late last year by Suman Hedge, the news could barely hold more promise.
"We couldn't be happier with the horse since his arrival," Hickmott said after supervising Django Freeman's two laps of the sand track at the Werribee International Horse Centre on Wednesday morning.
"He's put on weight - he's about 471 (kilograms) at the moment. He's holding a little bit of condition, which is fantastic after a trip halfway around the world."
As the former private trainer for Lloyd Williams' Macedon Lodge stable, Hickmott has vast experience with imported horses as he's saddled 17 internationals in the Melbourne Cup over the past decade for two wins, with Green Moon (2012) and Almandin (2016).
He admits it can be a lottery of sorts identifying the horses that will immediately acclimatise and find their best form but said Django Freeman was showing none of the worrying signs a horse is not coping with a new environment in a different hemisphere.
"You don't know until you do try them," he said. "Until we put the acid test on them in a Group 1 race too. It's a big task for them first-up but it can be done as we've seen in the past and hopefully he'll be one of those horses that can put his hand up," Hickmott said.
"His head has never left the feed bin. He's licked out every day since he's been here and he's drank 20 litres a day.
"He's got a terrific attitude under saddle and in the stable environment and his temperature has been settled throughout his time here at Werribee and so, hopefully, that can remain the same and so we can leave here (quarantine) on Saturday as we need to get a full tick of approval from the vets.
"He's a very light, athletic colt and typical of the European breed.
"He's not heavy on his feet, which stands him in good stead to acclimatise him to our firmer tracks over here and his attitude to boot.
"Obviously we haven't put any pressure on him here at this stage. We'll wait to do that in gallops at Caulfield and Sandown when we are readying for a first-up tilt at maybe the Turnbull Stakes (October 5)."
Bookmakers are wary of Django Freeman, rating him third favourite in the Caulfield Cup and keeping him safe also in Cox Plate markets.
He is a stoutly bred German import, as were Melbourne Cup winners Protectionist and Almandin, but unlike that pair, a middle distance may ultimately be his preferred trip despite boasting a second placing in the German Derby (2400m) in June.
"He has a turn of foot, he's very stoutly bred the horse and as a two-year-old he shouldn't have been doing what he was doing," Hickmott noted.
"They (German trainers) are able to push their horses a little bit further than ours in a two-year-old prep with the soft tracks over there. They don't get so much shin soreness and they can get a great aerobic capacity into the horses.
"I think it's going to be a learning curve for us all where he stands in Australia racing first-up in the Turnbull. If he happens to win the Turnbull, there's a $1 million carrot for the bonus into the Cox Plate and being a colt there are big residual awards there for him."
Unlike his namesake in the film Django Unchained, Hickmott said the horse, who is a three-year-old by Northern Hemisphere time, was very placid.
"Jacob Rule is looking after the horse and he said he's the quietest colt he's ever touched," the trainer said.
"He's just an absolute gentleman. Schabau's a bit of a lad but he's totally a different horse to him. He's a kid's pony."
Hickmott was happy to compare Django Freeman with Schabau as, despite their personality differences, both are German imports and Schabau opened his Australian account earlier this year with three wins from as many starts before falling to a tendon injury.
His trainer, who helped nurse another German import, Almandin, back from a tendon injury to Melbourne Cup glory, is expecting a full recovery from Schabau in time for the 2020 Melbourne Cup.
"We're giving him the traditional 10 months off and we'll start to look at a bit of rehab later in the year or early next year and bring him up nice and slow with lots of soft kilometres under their legs," he said.
"He's one of those horses that has a 34 (seconds) in him at the end of a two-mile race."