By Ray Hickson
In over half a century of training racehorses, Les Bridge can’t think of a bigger challenge than preparing superstar Classique Legend to win Saturday’s $15 million TAB Everest (1200m) first-up.
Especially given everything the defending champion has been through.
The 83-year-old Hall Of Famer said he can’t be as confident as he was a year ago when he spent about the last month leading into the Everest telling everyone who would listen that the horse would win.
“I can’t think of a much tougher job than this,’’ Bridge said.
“For some reason I was super confident last year, the preparation was perfect, the jockey (Kerrin McEvoy) was supremely confident and the horse had been going great.
“I’ve been training horses a long time and there’s probably been half a dozen times I’ve had a horse going as well as that.
“What he’s been through, probably the public only know the half of it. To come back and be one of the favourites for the race without having a run goes to show what the Australian people think of him.”
A quick recap. Classique Legend was shipped off to Hong Kong shortly after he won the TAB Everest last year so his owner Bon Ho could see him race at home and campaign him around the world.
It was always the plan to return to defend his Everest crown. Whether he didn’t settle in or there were other factors he failed badly in the Hong Kong Sprint in December.
A minor bleed after a trackwork session in late March brought an end to his Hong Kong stay and he was returned to Bridge. But delays with flights meant he had to travel via New Zealand, spend two weeks there, and didn’t return to Sydney until early June.
It quickly became clear that Bridge would run out of time to get the six-year-old fit enough to race in either the Shorts or the Premiere and he decided work and three trials was the way, albeit the risky way, to go.
“When he got back he really felt it, he was light,’’ Bridge said.
“I knew I didn’t have time to get him ready for the Shorts, so I thought I’d put the ball in the air and go first-up. It’s all about timing, life’s all about timing.”
It wasn’t until after Classique Legend’s second trial, on September 24, that Bridge felt he was back in the game. After the third he started to think he can win it.
Sure, he won the first trial narrowly a couple of weeks earlier, but it wasn’t the Classique Legend that Bridge knew.
“To be truthful after the first trial I was bitterly disappointed,’’ he said.
“He beat Lost And Running narrowly and Hugh Bowman was looking around on his horse like he could go past us at any time.
“His second trial was really good and that heartened me but his trial the other day was really good.
“I didn’t give Kerrin any instructions, I just said to him just tell me what he feels like. As soon as he got off the horse he rang me and said we’ve nearly got him back.”
The grey, $5 with TAB on Friday, is aiming to be the second back-to-back TAB Everest winner after Redzel (2017-18) and to give Kerrin McEvoy his fourth win in the race.
Bridge said the rain that has fallen has made the task harder, so any improvement in the Randwick track on race day would be advantageous.
“I wouldn’t want a heavy track first-up, that would make it hard,’’ he said.
“He’s won on a heavy track, he just got beaten one day at Rosehill. It was a bog and you would not get a heavier track than that. But I’d like a (soft) 5 or 6, that’d be perfect.
“I do think he can win it, if things go right. Last year I couldn’t see them beating him, this year everything has got to go right. I think it is a closer race this time too. It’s not going to be easy.”
A few weeks back Bridge said any credit for Classique Legend winning his second Everest, if he is able to, goes to the horse. And he’ll stick by that.
“You don’t get horses like him, let’s face it,’’ he said.