LESS than 24 hours after nominations for the Caulfield Cup and Cox Plate were announced, the spring carnival lost one of its headline horses with Melbourne Cup placegetter Lucas Cranach succumbing to injury.
The Anthony Freedman-trained six-year-old missed the Australian Cup and the Sydney autumn carnival when a small bone flake was found in a fetlock joint, and yesterday Freedman said that an even smaller flake had been found after trackwork on Tuesday.
''It is very frustrating and hugely disappointing for the stable and the owners because the horse is immensely talented,'' he said. ''It is a very minor chip but he is far too valuable to risk and so we made the decision to treat the injury as soon as possible rather than tackle the spring.
''There is some chance that he will be ready to go to Hong Kong for the International meeting in December, but I won't be rushing him for the sake of it.''
Lucas Cranach showed huge promise during a two-run campaign last spring which culminated in a third place in the Melbourne Cup, before creating a huge impression with a stunning win in the group 2 St George Stakes at Caulfield in February before injury cut short his autumn campaign.
Freezing conditions kept most punters away from Sandown yesterday but those who braved the weather saw a horse undoubtedly destined for better things this spring.
The Leon Corstens-trained three-year-old Awesome Bro had caught the eye with an easy win on debut at Swan Hill and arrived at Sandown under heavy scrutiny after being nominated for the Caulfield Guineas and Cox Plate.
Although he still has a long way to go to reach the heights of those spring classics, he showed he is a horse of immense promise with a dominant performance over 1000 metres yesterday.
''We went to the races worried about how he would handle the wet, and watching the race I don't think he handled it at all. His class got him through and Leon was really impressed by the win,'' said Brad Spicer, who manages the horse on behalf of its owners.
Although he holds a Cox Plate nomination, Spicer said the weight-for-age championship remained a ''pie in the sky'' target, with the Caulfield Guineas a more realistic mission should the son of Darci Brahma continue to rise through the ranks.
On Monday, Spicer will unveil the exceptionally well bred debutante Commanding Jewel at Swan Hill. The filly is a half-sister to Cox Plate favourite Atlantic Jewel and looked smart when winning a recent Wangaratta trial by eight lengths.
''It doesn't matter what she is related to, she has to prove that she is a racehorse herself. We're hopeful that she measures up,'' Spicer said.