YEAR: 2007


For his connections, and an ever-increasing army of fans, Changeover's victory in last Friday night's $50,000 First Sovereign Superstars Championship was just what the doctor ordered. To trainer Geoff Small it provided confirmation that his stable star is right on target for the NZ Cup; for the fans, it was some justification for backing him into a very short $2.20 for the big event in less than five weeks time.

But last Friday's Group 2 event was an event that Changeover simply had to win. Not only because it was a field lacking both numbers and, to be fair, horses anywhere near the class of Changeover. And not only because it completely fell into the champ's lap: sitting three-deep as the field raced in single file and not even needing to move until the home bend. Because if your the one to beat on Cup Day when you take on the country's best pacers, you would want to trounce a field like that - which he did, in typical Changeover fashion.

And in the end, the Superstars turned into little more than a racenight trial with a $32,355 cheque attached. Understandably, Small bottled a lot of positives from Changeover's latest visit to Addington. "It was the first time he'd had a standing start, and he handled it well," Small said afterwards. "The challenge will be getting away with a group of horses around him." Small says he originally intended to kick Changeover's season in the north before trekking to Christchurch, but upon learning that the maximum handicap his horse could be given in the Superstars was only 20 metres, the schedule changed. "He was pretty close to the trial stage anyway," he said, "the Spring Cup up here was just a week too early for him."

And so the campaign's underway again, even though it's only seven weeks since Changeover won the Breeders' Crown Final across the Tasman. An appearance there was supposed to take this year's NZ Cup out of the equation, but those plans have changed as well. "I suppose we're trying to be 'smarty-bums'," Small confesses. "He had a long year as a 3-year-old. And even though we gave him a couple of easy weeks after coming back from Australia, he probably hasn't had the opportunity to have a break, grow big and strong and come back. But I'm not worried about it at the moment, because the racing doesn't appear to be taking anything out of him. It might catch up with him one day though."

From here Changeover heads to Ashburton for the Flying Stakes, and Small intends to top off his preparation for the big one with a start in the Cup Trial. Happy with where his fitness levels are at, he says it's just a case of keeping Changeover ticking over in the meantime and then giving him a 'tidy-up' run closer to the two events.

Ashburton will be the first real acid test for the In The Pocket entire, and will prove one way or the other whether he'll step up to the top league or not. Judging by early markets, a lot of people think he will. "I've just got to ignore the fact that he's favourite, and focus on Ashburton and then the Cup," Small said. "If I start worrying about that side of things then I'm not doing the horse any favours. But yes it will be a big ask for him. It's a bit like the young fellas playing sport - quite often when they step up to the top grade they get their arse kicked for a while. He's got seven or eight really good ones to beat. And they're strong horses they don't roll over. On the surface it appears that he is up to it - we're not really going to know until we get there."

Credit: John Robinson writing in HRWeekly 10Oct07

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