Al Galayel wins at Moonee Valley (Image: Racing Photos/Pat Scala)
The stage is set for another intriguing stoush between Victoria’s two dominant stables after the new season at The Valley on Saturday opened firstly with a win from Ciaron Maher and Dave Eustace before Lindsay Park struck immediately in the second.
Maher and Eustace enjoyed their best ever season finish when runner-up in the trainer’s premiership behind the Lindsay Park team, and the training partners wasted no time on the opening day of the new season following a smart ride on import Al Galayel from Ben Melham.
The 1600-metre race named to celebrate the horse’s birthday, took on a strange look not long after the start when Victoria Star, the $2.70 favourite with BetEasy, drove forward only to be overtaken by Vassilator with Melham happy to settle Al Galayel behind the surprising leaders.
The move forward by the two fancied runners proved costly as they faded from the contest on turning for home where Melham sent Al Galayel ($3.60) to the lead and he held on easily to win by a length and a quarter from Prince Ziggy ($7.50), who came from last after many thought he would lead, with the $41 bolter No Effort a half-length away in third.
WATCH: Al Galayel wins at The Valley
"It’s a really great opportunity as well to thank the team for a really great year last season and it’s nice to start the season with a win," Eustace said after the race.
"He got a great ride from Ben. A little bit closer today, we were able to do that with the small field. He likes The Valley."
Tactics proved the undoing of Victoria Star, who faded to just beat Vassilator home.
Trainer Greg Eurell explained: "The way it ended up with his position in the run, up there leading with that other horse sitting up beside him it kept him working a bit."
"I think he just spent too much gas trying to be competitive. If you analyse the two from this one and at Flemington, he got back at Flemington and ran on terrific. Today it was a complete role reversal where he was and that’s just not the way to tide him."
Just 35 minutes later the new Lindsay Park team of Ben Hayes and Tom Dabernig unearthed a likely three-year-old in the form of Hard Landing who has a wealth of options in front of him this spring after overcoming a serious illness before returning to score impressively over 1000 metres on Saturday.
The son of All Too Hard and the flying mare Snitzerland looked to have a big juvenile year ahead of him after winning the Group 3 Maribyrnong Plate (1000m) at Flemington last spring but Ben Hayes explained an illness floored the horse after he was unplaced in a prelude for the Blue Diamond Stakes in February.
"He got really sick after his last run," Hayes explained. "He had to have a big dose of anti-biotics but we looked after him and he’s come back fantastic and really matured into himself."
After kicking clear into the straight, Hard Landing ($4.20) held a half-length margin over the well-backed Diesel ‘N’ Dust ($4.80) with first starter The Cruiser ($23) closing into third place.
Hayes said Hard Landing would return to The Valley in three weeks for a race before looking at their spring options.
WATCH: Hard Landing wins at The Valley