By Ben Caluzzi
Matt Laurie’s flying three-year-old colt Portland Sky will be aiming to make it back-to-back wins at the elite level when he steps out in the Group 1 Keogh Homes William Reid Stakes on Friday night.
The son of Deep Field had to share the spoils with Celebrity Queen in last month’s Group 1 Oakleigh Plate and that thrilling dead-heat was the first in a Melbourne Group 1 since the 2001 Futurity Stakes, some 20 years ago.
The victory was also Portland Sky’s fourth win at only start seven and it provided young gun apprentice Teo Nugent with his first success at Group 1 level.
Taking on the older horses for the first time, Portland Sky rode the hot speed set by Ancestry and after hitting the front 300 metres from home, Matt Laurie praised his tenacity to stave them off for victory.
“I was just happy we didn’t run second.
“He was there to be beaten. He hit the front a long way out.
“For a young horse going into his seventh start to be leading up a pretty good field, he did a fantastic job to hold on.”
Under handicap conditions, Portland Sky carried just 50kg in the Oakleigh Plate, but stepping up to weight-for-age level for the first time in the Keogh Homes William Reid Stakes, the colt certainly will not be afforded the same luxury weight.
“He has to jump up 6 kilograms, it’s a significant amount of weight based on what he carried last time.
“But I think it’s something he’ll be able to handle.”
Barrier draws and track conditions are just some of the many crucial factors in big races, and although Portland Sky did win the Group 3 Red Anchor Stakes on Ladbrokes Cox Plate Day last year on a rain affected track, Laurie is hopeful of a good track for tonight’s feature race meeting.
“He’s a horse who’s probably happier on a dryer surface.
“He did win there previously on the soft track, but I feel he is better on a firmer surface.”
Portland Sky drew perfectly in barrier 5 in the Oakleigh Plate and is looking to remain unbeaten at The Valley, however the barrier draw wasn’t so kind for him in the Keogh Homes William Reid Stakes.
“We don’t want to be too far off the rail, but we didn’t want to draw gate 1, which we have got.
“He’s got good gate speed, he can put himself in a position and relax, and he can quicken when asked.”
The frantic pace of an Oakleigh Plate can often take its toll on young horses, but with no signs of the emerging sprinter tapering off it is all systems go for Portland Sky.
“He’s pulled up really well, he was having a jump and a leap around the following day out in the paddock.”
After galloping Portland Sky at The Valley on Tuesday morning, 19-time group 1 winning jockey Mark Zahra will partner the colt on Friday night, and after finishing second on Gytrash last year, the star hoop will be hoping to go one better.