THERE’S something about a grey horse that catches the eye.
Puissance De Lune is certainly no different.
But while the flashy import has always had good looks and an element of ability – that’s the reason he was purchased and flown out to Australia after four starts in France by wealthy owner Gerry Ryan – his rise to big-race player has caught even his closest minder by surprise.
There’s few people that know the horse better than Ballarat trainer Darren Weir, who has had care of Puissance De Lune following his early days in Europe, which landed a maiden win at La Teste De Buch.
And it wasn’t until the son of Shamardal’s barnstorming eight-length victory in last year’s listed Bendigo Cup (2400m) – the race his owner had originally bought him to win – that Weir started to stand up and take notice.
He proved that the Bendigo win was anything but a fluke when he came out 10 days later and strolled to a five-length victory in the group 3 Queen Elizabeth Stakes (2600m) at Flemington.
That’s when his jockey Glen Boss declared he would be the 2013 Melbourne Cup winner.
And the racing world agreed, installing him as the favourite a little less than a year out from the great race.
Puissance De Lune’s previous six Aussie runs had produced three good wins, but nothing to suggest he would be a major spring player.
“Bendigo Cup day was the first time we’d seen it. We knew we had him in good order, but we didn’t know whether he could win or not,” Weir, who stables Puissance De Lune at his Warrnambool base, recalled.
“When you train at the beach, you train completely different than you do on the track, so you don’t gallop them to find out how they are going.
“You know you have them well and fit and hope they run well.”
Weir and Ryan then set sights on the bigger races.
A one-off appearance in autumn resulted in a dead-heat in the group 2 Blamey Stakes (1600m).
This was a tune-up for a spring assault, which kicked off in August with victory in the group 2 Lawrence Stakes (1400m).
It was then Puissance De Lune’s turn to step up to group 1 company.
He finished a close second in both the Makybe Diva Stakes (1600m) and Turnbull Stakes (2000m), split by a closing seventh in the Underwood Stakes (1800m), and is now pushing favouritism for this weekend’s Australasian weight-for-age championship, the WS Cox Plate (2040m).
This has now been revealed as the horse’s main goal.
“Originally it was Melbourne Cup and then we have changed and gone to the Cox Plate,” Weir told The Courier at yesterday’s Ballarat races.
“Obviously we will get him ready for this and see how he goes and how he pulls up and decide whether we push on.”
Weir says Ballarat’s love for the grey hasn’t caught him by surprise, and it’s only become stronger this week with news that former St Patrick’s College student Ben Melham will ride the horse in tomorrow’s $3million race.
Boss’s suspension for careless riding has allowed Melham, one of three to win on champion mare Black Caviar, to jump aboard for what could be a defining moment in the careers of horse, jockey and trainer.
PUISSANCE'S PATH TO MOONEY VALLEY
Parents: Sharmadal (US)-Princess Serena (US)
Trainer: Darren Weir, Ballarat
• Bred in Ireland
• Initially trained by Damien de Watrigant at Artassenx in the south-west corner of France
• Debuted in France in June, 2011
• Won his second start at Bordeaux on August 8
• Had two more starts in France for two seconds
• Purchased by Australian businessman Gerry Ryan
• Ryan’s primary aim was to win a Bendigo Cup with the import
• Won his first Australian start at Warrnambool on May 3, 2012
• Won his next run at Sandown Hillside on May 23, 2012
• Spelled after fourth at Sandown Lakeside
• Resumed with fifth in Ballarat’s Gold Nugget on September 23, 2012
• Wins at Mornington on October 10, 2012
• A certainty beaten into second at Warrnambool on October 18, 2012
• The grey fulfils owner Gerry Ryan’s desire to win the Bendigo Cup on October 31 – achieving it by a massive eight lengths
• Races into 2013 Melbourne Cup calculations by dashing away with the group 3 Queen Elizabeth Stakes at Flemington on November 10, 2012
• Has just one start in the autumn, deadheating for first in the group 2 Blamey Stakes at Flemington on March 9
• Mains early Melbourne Cup favouritism
• Launches his spring with a win in group 2 Lawrence Stakes at Caulfield on August 17
• Chasing his first group 1 victory, he runs a close second in Makybe Diva Stakes at Flemington on September 7
• A wide barrier and slow track means the entire is never a chance when unplaced in the group 1 Underwood Stakes at Caulfield on September 21
• Another near miss in a group 1, this time second in the Turnbull Stakes at Flemington on October 5.