Champion reinsman Chris Lewis has no hesitation in classing Lavra Joe in the same elite company as former star three-year-olds Saab, Talladega, Hilarion Star and Flashing Star he drove to numerous feature wins in the 1990s.
And he is in awe of Lavra Joe, a remarkable three-year-old colt owned and trained by Ray Jones who has won at 14 of his 26 starts and is destined for stardom.
Lavra Joe, who set the pace and scored an effortless victory in the Group 3 Caduceus Club Classic a fortnight ago, has drawn awkwardly on the inside of the back line in the $50,000 Group 2 Intersport Slater Gartrell Western Gateway Pace at Gloucester Park on Friday night.
“It’s a bit of a headache,” said Lewis. “Obviously, it is not the ideal draw for him; any other draw probably would be better, but we’ll take what we get. It would be nice to be able to get off the pegs as early as possible. He 2536m trip should be in his favour.
“Lavra Joe’s past two runs have been outstanding. He shouldn’t really be doing that; he’s just an exceptional horse and he is certainly right up there with some of the best three-year-olds I have driven. I hate comparing horses, but Lavra Joe is definitely in that league.”
Saab, his full-brother Talladega, Hilarion Star and his half-brother Flashing Star excelled after brilliant careers as two and three-year-olds, with Saab racing 63 times for 21 wins, 15 seconds and three thirds for stakes of $577,197, Talladega earning $411,680 from 18 wins and ten placings from 66 starts, Hilarion Star having 70 starts for 26 wins, 17 placings and $398,394, and Flashing Star racing 118 times for 23 wins, 32 placings and $352,888.
Lavra Joe gives every indication that he will prove extremely hard to beat in the $200,000 Sky Channel WA Derby on February 30 and then develop into a leading contender for WA’s major feature events in the following years.
With Lewis anxious to get Lavra Joe off the inside and into the clear as early as possible, the star reinsman will determine his tactics depending on the tempo of the race.
The Ross Olivieri-trained Carabao will start from the prized No. 1 barrier and Kim Prentice is likely to take advantage of the colt’s good gate speed like he did when Carabao led from barrier one and won convincingly in weaker company, beating Ima Rockabilly Rebel and American Bullitt.
Boyanup trainer Justin Prentice admitted he was disappointed at Mighty Ronaldo’s fading last-start ninth behind Lavra Joe last Friday week when the Alta Christiano colt started from the inside of the back line, got off the pegs after 500m and was sixth in the one-wide line at the bell before moving four wide 300m from home, but wilting quickly.
That followed Mighty Ronaldo’s all-the-way win (from barrier one) in the group 2 Sales Classic in which he held on to defeat Lavra Joe by a head after his great rival started out wide at barrier seven and worked hard in the breeze throughout.
“That wasn’t the usual Mighty Ronaldo,” said Prentice. “He had an elevated heart rate, but other than that we haven’t found anything wrong with him. His work since has been good, and much will depend on where he ends up after starting from barrier five. I still think he is a good chance; he has proved that he’s good enough.”
Pinny Tiger (barrier two), Seeryanfly (three) and Dominus Factum (four) are drawn to be prominent, with Dominus Factum surprising and delighting trainer-reinsman Aiden de Campo with his excellent last-start second to Lavra Joe in the Caduceus Club Classic in which the American Ideal gelding began speedily from the No. 2 barrier to outgun Lavra Joe to take up the running after 250m. Lewis then dashed Lavra Joe to the front 150m later, giving Dominus Factum, an $81 outsider, an ideal trail before he fought on grandly to finish second.
Seeryanfly is racing keenly for trainer-driver Robbie Williams, and he impressed with his strong finishing burst when third behind Lavra Joe and Dominus Factum two weeks ago.
Pinny Tiger, to be driven by Michael Grantham for Blythewood trainer Michael Brennan, will be having his first start since he led from barrier one and was an easy winner in moderate company at Narrogin seven weeks ago. He warmed up for this assignment with a smart all-the-way 2185m trial win at Pinjarra on Wednesday of last week when he beat Be Seventeen by two lengths.
By Ken Casellas