McDonald Wary As Classy Funstar Surrounded By Hurdles

If you can’t beat us first-up good luck for the rest of the carnival.

Jockey James McDonald (Pic: Steve Hart)

That’s the sentiment from jockey James McDonald as exciting filly Funstar steps into the ring for the first time this year in Saturday’s Group 1 $500,000 Heineken 3 Surround Stakes (1400m) at Randwick.

The Flight Stakes winner is giving away race fitness to all her major rivals and that’s something McDonald is wary of but he leaves no doubt he thinks Funstar is top shelf.

“If she happens to win on Saturday she will be a force to be reckoned with,’’ McDonald said.

“It would say she’s going to be awfully hard to beat in whatever she runs in from here on in.

“She’s first-up at seven furlongs which is no easy task but she is a filly that will appreciate it and she will take good benefit from it.’’

The outside barrier in the 14 horse Surround field adds an extra layer of difficulty to Funstar’s assignment but clearly plenty is expected of her in the autumn.

She was all-in TAB favourite earlier in the week but after the barrier draw Light Fingers winner Flit assumed top billing at $3.60 on Wednesday before Funstar firmed back to $3.50.

Funstar hasn’t raced since her easy Group 1 Flight Stakes win over Probabeel, who has won twice in New Zealand since then including the Karaka Million for three-year-olds, on October 5.

McDonald has been on board in both of Funstar’s trials this time in and said everything points to her running well, obviously with some luck from the sticky barrier.

“She’s been really good, she hasn’t gone backwards put it that way,’’ he said.

“She is taking on fillies that are second-up on Saturday, in a real quality field, so whatever she does she will improve on significantly.

“The thing about her is she’s a real racehorse, she’ll turn up on the day and give her all.

“The harder the race the better she goes. She loves a fight and she gives her all, she doesn’t shy away from it.’’

Funstar holds nominations for five races during The Star Championships in April – both the Australian Oaks and Derby, the Star Doncaster, Coolmore Legacy and Longines Queen Elizabeth Stakes.

McDonald won the Oaks last year on Verry Elleegant and he’s back on board the four-year-old in the Group 1 $600,000 TAB Chipping Norton Stakes (1600m).

The mare ran fourth behind Alizee in the Apollo Stakes (1400m), with Tim Clark riding, two weeks ago and clocked the fastest last 200m of the race (11.68, Punter’s Intelligence).

McDonald gave the effort a pass mark though concedes she may not be as effective on a good track against the quality on offer in the Chipping Norton where she opened $21.

“I thought she was good first-up, she had track conditions to suit though,’’ he said.

“She ran well enough over that shorter course but she feels like she is wanting a bit further this time in. She’s a high quality race mare and she just needs conditions to suit.’’

One interesting horse McDonald has been booked to ride at Randwick on Saturday, if he takes his place, is Imaging in the Group 3 $160,000 Liverpool City Cup (1300m).

The five-year-old import has won five of his 12 starts in the UK and is a sprinter-miler, impressed McDonald in his latest barrier trial on Tuesday, running second to Standout, and said he’s a horse to keep an eye on.

“I had a sit on him (Tuesday) morning and he was really good, I don’t know where he fits into the scheme of things but he feels pretty nice,’’ he said.

– Racing NSW

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