Melbourne racegoers probably thought they’d seen the last of Grand Duels as a feature-race key player.
The Marechal sprinter had been competitive with the best, logging thirds in both the 2008 Newmarket Handicap and the 2009 Lightning Stakes, but hasn’t been seen at the top level in Victoria since failing to beat home a runner in last year’s Oakleigh Plate.
But a dominant win at Caulfield on December 4 – his first Victorian success away from Flemington – has earned Grand Duels a shot at Sunday’s $100,000 Listed Christmas Stakes (1200m) at Caulfield.
The seven-year-old has now won two of his past three, following a similarly impressive win in Adelaide, convincing trainer Byron Cozamanis to have a crack at one of the features on one of Victoria’s most popular days on the racing calendar.
“We just wanted to try and pick the races out over the summer, where they’re a little bit easier (than Spring), and the Christmas Stakes came up and it looked like a good race for him,” Cozamanis said.
“We were tossing up between that and the Standish (Handicap, on New Year’s Day), but he’s definitely running on Sunday.”
That Cozamanis committed to running with 59 kilograms after drawing the outside barrier in the slick field of 16 plus three emergencies indicates how well Grand Duels, a winner of eight of his 35 starts, is going.
Melbourne Cup Week winner Keano, last-start Adelaide feature winner About Ready, explosive finisher Huxxsen, the capable Gold In Dubai and last-start hard-luck story Offenders are among his rivals, but Cozamanis is placing his faith in superstar heavyweight hoop Steven Arnold.
“He’s probably better off drawn out there because he’ll jump pretty quickly and he still should get a forward position,” he said. “It’s a bit of weight, 59, but there won’t be much dead weight on him with Stevie Arnold.
“I’ll be going there positive. I won’t be 100 percent confident because I think the field’s a little bit harder than last time, but with a bit of luck I think he’ll be around the mark.”
Grand Duels was installed an $11 chance in TAB Sportsbet’s initial market. Offenders opened the $5 favourite, clear of Huxxsen ($5.50), About Ready and Miss Octopussy (both $6.50) with Gold In Dubai and Keano both at $8.50.
Aloha is the raging $1.50 favourite for Sunday’s other $100,000 Listed event – the Lord Stakes (1700m).
The last-start Flemington winner has just seven rivals to contend with in the event that precedes the Christmas Stakes and will be run at 4.40pm.
Full fields for Sunday’s Caulfield meeting are available by clicking on the link