Catalonia shows his strength
Catalonia stamped himself as a leading contender for next month's $1 million Karaka Million with an emphatic three-length win in Saturday's Listed $50,0000 Wentwood Grange Stakes (1100m) at Te Rapa on Saturday.
The Jason Bridgman-trained Commands colt claimed his maiden win in the stakes race at just his second start, having run a creditable second to star juvenile Bounding at Ellerslie on debut in October.
Settled in fourth spot by stable rider Matthew Cameron, Catalonia peeled three wide on the bend, strode up to lead with 300m to run and then cruised clear, despite changing legs down the straight.
"His strength really kicked in that 100m," Bridgman said.
"The good two-year-olds have that natural strength. Ability is one thing but when you get to 1200m as a two-year-old, you need that natural inherent strength."
Bridgman confirmed the Karaka Million (1200m) at Ellerslie on January 27 as Catalonia's summer target with the Gr III $70,000 Eclipse Stakes (1200m) at Ellerslie on January 1 the colt's likely only leadup.
Catalonia's owner Tang Weng Fei won last year's Eclipse Stakes with Warhorse, who last week transferred from Bridgman to Sydney trainer Chris Waller.
"In a perfect world we'll go from the Eclipse Stakes straight into the Karaka Million without another run," Bridgman said.
"We got him ready today off two gallops after a two-month layoff. If I needed to I could get him to go straight into the Karaka Million without another run.
"We're in now. We're qualified and we'll do what we need to to get him there in the best possible shape."
Bridgman was delighted with the win but said he had always expected big things from the precocious youngster.
"He's just the most professional horse," Bridgman said.
"First day at the breakers, bang, he got it. First day in the barriers, bang, he got it. I had no worries with him coming here today. He's still learned a bit. He's had a good look at the tents and chopped and changed legs a bit and I thought he dealt with the crowd well.
"I don't think they will be this big a crowd on Karaka Millions day. He just does things normal two-year-olds don't do. It was very satisfying to see him run well today. He signalled really early on that he was a naturally talented two-year-old. When he steps up to 1200m in high-pressure races, that's when we'll see the best of him."
Catalonia had raced on the pace in both his trial wins and his debut race at Ellerslie and Bridgman was thrilled to see the colt add another string to his bow by settling well in behind the speed.
"He's always been very tractable. I was really pleased to see Matt, when there was a lot of speed, slot across and take a sit behind the speed," Bridgman said.
"He will learn a heck of a lot from that and going forward into bigger races, it's always nice to be able to take a sit."
Cameron said Catalonia adapted admirably to his change of role.
"He relaxed beautifully and did everything amazingly," Cameron said.
"He was waiting for the other horses in the end and he was just doing it on his ear. He was chopping and changing his legs a couple of times but that's just greenness and being by himself in front. He's only going to get better and better."
Gateway found the line well for second after settling in the trail, finishing half a length of debutante Total Response, with 2 1/4 lengths back to fellow debutante Altai Rose in fourth.