Encap has already won the most improved award at Gary Portelli’s stable but it’s Group 1 glory the trainer wants and that quest begins at Randwick on Saturday.
The three-year-old started his last campaign as a $7 chance in a Warwick Farm maiden, three starts later he won a Group 3 before being nabbed in the last stride by Militarize in the Group 1 Golden Rose.
Portelli has designs on the Randwick Guineas next month and says he’s expecting Encap will be a force first-up in the Group 3 $250,000 Silverdale Farm Eskimo Prince Stakes (1200m).
“I’ve got him fit enough to run six furlongs out easily and I think he’s a top three chance without a doubt,’’ Portelli said.
“You can see he’s learned a lot from last time though. He’s more professional and his two trials were very good.
“I’m very happy with the way he’s come back. He’ll be a great chance of winning this weekend.”
While he was beaten as favourite in the $500,000 Tapp-Craig, finishing 1-1/4 lengths behind Makarena, after the Golden Rose it was a case of going to the well once too often.
The Warwick Farm trainer still pinches himself about what Encap achieved last spring and he’d like to think a strong platform has been laid to go on with it in the second half of the season.
“He’s one of the most improved horses I’ve had anything to do with,’’ Portelli said.
“He’s not a horse that gives you much at home. He’s very laid back and unassuming and this weekend will answer a lot of questions for us and the punters.
“These are the horses you dream about. A horse that was struggling around in a maiden then next minute you’re a stride away from winning a Group 1. They are hard to come by.
“If he can only take a little bit of improvement from last preparation he’s going to be a very competitive horse at the top level.”
Encap, $5.50 with TAB on Thursday, has trialled twice ahead of the Eskimo Prince running third behind Learning To Fly and Griff in the first on January 16 then two weeks later he ran a close second to Tiz Invincible.
“I was happy with the way he hit the line the other day, he’s just a racehorse who turns up on race day,’’ Portelli said.
“You’ve just got to ride him right and get a bit of luck and he’ll be there.”
Stablemate Flying Trapeze will head to Melbourne to continue his preparation since placing in the Magic Millions Guineas with Portelli preferring the longer trip.
“The 1200m in a small field might not suit him, 1400m will so that’s why he’s in Melbourne,’’ he said.
Meanwhile, multiple Group 1 placed filly Kimochi is all set to resume in Saturday week’s Group 2 Light Fingers Stakes (1200m).
– Racing NSW