Annabel Neasham is expecting Zaaki to bounce back brightly in his ‘grand final’ this weekend.
The seven-year-old has remained the Cox Plate favourite despite his last-start defeat in the Might And Power Stakes at Caulfield when running third behind Probabeel and Nonconformist.
Since he went under at $1.20, there has been some negative talk surrounding the two-time Group 1 winner who beat a small field in the Underwood Stakes at Sandown in late September, but Neasham can’t fathom why.
“What I can’t understand is the criticism of his win in the Underwood,” she said on SEN Track’s Spring Racing Breakfast.
“He won by two lengths hands and heels. I can’t have it that people say they don’t like the run, I loved it. He won a Group 1 by two lengths.
“Dan O’Sullivan’s ratings, if you read those, he rated his (Underwood) win higher than his Tramway win and it was right up there with his Hollindale run.
“So for me, I have absolutely no problem with his Underwood run, I think we’re right on track.”
Neasham says the Cox Plate at The Valley has always been the target for the import.
She is confident his work at the track in the lead-up has given him the right grounding to run well in the biggest race of his career.
“He’s been set for this to be his grand final,” he added.
“He’s absolutely flying. I thought his work Saturday and Tuesday around The Valley was excellent, it was as good as he normally is.
“I don’t want to change much. He’s a sound horse. There’s a lot of chat that there have been issues with him, which is a load of rubbish. If there were issues with him, he wouldn’t be passing the vet checks.
“To me that looked like the Zaaki that I wanted to see.
“We’ve set him for this race since we put him in the paddock at the end of last campaign. I’ve done everything I can, there’s no stone left unturned and if he’s right he’ll be good enough.
“If he’s not he’s not, but we’ve done all we can and I’m confident he can run a really big race.”
The Neasham stable also saddle up Mo’unga who will go around at nice each-way odds.
This preparation, the son of Savebeel has won the Winx Stakes, beating Verry Elleegant, has run second to Incentivise in the Makybe Diva, and then produced a fast-finishing fifth in the Epsom.
So, how is Mo’unga going ahead of the Cox Plate?
“Enormous. If for whatever reason Zaaki doesn’t show up, don’t be surprised for Mo’unga to,” Neasham said.
“He’s never had a bad race. He was jumping around as favourite and second favourite for the Golden Eagle for a long time and it’s a $7.5 million race.
“So to come away from that and to send him down there to run in the Cox Plate tells you how much I think of the horse.
“He got close to Incentivise two starts ago. I know Incentivise was first-up, but it was a super run. He beat Verry Elleegant in the Winx Stakes and I thought his run in the Epsom was huge.
“The Cox Plate is one race I’m desperate to win so to have two live chances is better than one.
“He’s going great guns. I’m pretty excited about putting the blinkers on, Hugh Bowman on and he’s drawn a gate which he doesn’t normally do.
“He’s a massive chance.”
Zaaki, who will be ridden by James McDonald,is a $3 favourite with most bookies, while Mo’unga, for Hugh Bowman, is at $13.