Maher Backs Union’s Staying Strength To Shine Through

There’s no doubts in trainer Ciaron Maher’s mind that former Kiwi galloper Union Gap has the staying chops to make it three from three in Oz at Rosehill on Saturday.

Trainer Ciaron Maher (Pic: Bradley Photos)

It might be a month since the four-year-old scored a gritty win over 2130m but Maher, who co-trains with David Eustace, said that performance was proof enough for him that the Vale Ian Finn Handicap (2400m) is within reach.

He settled second in the run and had to bring the field up to a leader who established a sizeable midrace gap, running 11.76 from the 800m-600m (Punter’s Intelligence) to bridge the gap, before digging in when the challengers came.

“His win on the heavy was very good, very impressive, and I thought it was quite a good win last start,’’ he said.

“He chased quite a hot speed, got headed, and then was able to quicken up again. I thought it was a strong staying performance.”

Union Gap, $3.80 with TAB on Thursday, won first-up, from an absence of over a year, on a heavy track over a mile before stepping up quickly in trip and Maher said the gelding has trained on well.

It’s easy to get carried away with a lightly raced horse that puts a few wins together and Maher is wary that Union Gap still has a bit to prove.

“He’s run in two Benchmark 72s and steps up a little bit to the 78 so he’s just poking his way through the grades,’’ he said.

“I expect him to run really well, he carries a little bit more weight but he’s in his right race. He will run the trip and he’s in good order.”

Stablemate Strawberry Rock pleased Maher with his first-up performance behind Pretty Amazing over 1800m at Hawkesbury a month ago.

He warns the import, who was placed over 2400m at Randwick at his fourth Australian start, shouldn’t be underestimated.

The six-year-old has been kept ticking over with a 1200m trial where he finished fifth behind Fireburn.

“It was a great run first-up and I think he’s come back really well,’’ he said.

“He had a couple of nice runs there last time and those European horses are often better second time around. He’s a real stayer.”

Maher has a pair of two-year-olds in Namesake and Griff in the Schweppes Handicap (1200m) and says the former has already shown he’s a progressive youngster.

Namesake won on debut at Warwick Farm before being ambushed by Chrysoar, after hitting the lead briefly in the straight, at Gosford two weeks ago.

“He’s a lovely horse, it was a quick tempo last start and the winner came off our back,’’ he said.

“He was good to the line. He’s developing all the time, you wouldn’t say he’s the biggest horse but he stands over a bit of ground and has quite a good stride on him.”

It’s been two months since Griff made his debut at Gosford, where he finished midfield in a 1200m maiden, and Maher said there’s talent in the colt he’s sure will be unlocked in time.

With some residual fitness from a short break since that debut, Griff was given an easy trial at Kembla Grange two weeks ago.

“He’s a big, rangy, horse and is going to keep improving. He has a big frame and he’s slowly growing into it,’’ he said.

– Racing NSW

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