Big Duke has Hunters aiming at Sydney Cup

PROTEST: Big Duke (checked sleeves and cap) and Our Century (white cap) brush in the run to the line last Saturday.

PROTEST: Big Duke (checked sleeves and cap) and Our Century (white cap) brush in the run to the line last Saturday.

Mendooran couple John and Julie Hunter have scaled the heights of racing by winning the Melbourne Cup, now they have their eyes firmly fixed on the Sydney equivalent.

Their imported gelding Big Duke took a big step towards a Sydney Cup start when he took out the Group 3 Manion Cup (2400m) at Rosehill last Saturday, handing trainer Darren Weir his first Sydney winner.

Second over the line at the end of the gruelling race, Big Duke’s jockey Craig Williams lodged a protest against the winner Our Century, citing interference in the home straight.

Stewards agreed the interference cost Big Duke the win, leaving the Hunters to celebrate.

“We were a bit deflated when they crossed the line and we knew he had been beaten, but my phone started buzzing with people messaging to say we’d win it in the stewards room,” John Hunter said.

“Obviously you don’t like to win races like that but the stewards said we deserved to win the race and the other horse cost us that, so we’ll take it.”

The Hunters were part-owners of 2014 Melbourne Cup winner Protectionist, another horse they bought into through syndicators Australian Bloodstock.

And while Big Duke isn’t in the same class as Protectionist, he is showing himself to be one tough individual.

His Rosehill win was preceded by a victory in the Launceston Cup and a second placing in the Hobart Cup.

“He’s had two trips to Tasmania and now one up to Sydney and he isn’t showing signs he’s had enough,” Hunter said.

“He’s thriving on the racing and plan now is to take him to the Chairmans Handicap over 2600m at Randwick on April 1, and then he will hopefully back up in the Sydney Cup over the 3200m a week later.”

Day one of The Championships is looming as a potential big one for the farming family, with Japanese import Tosen Stardom set to line up in the time-honoured Doncaster Mile.

The classy stallion resumed from a spell with a narrow second to Black Heart Bart in the Group 1 Futurity Stakes (1400m) before running second again to Palentino in the Group 2 Blamey Stakes (1600m) at Flemington on Saturday.

“We’re hoping the other day was just a bit of second-up syndrome with him,” Hunter said.

“We know he is a very exciting horse and he will be a big chance in the Doncaster. Hopefully because his first-up run was so good he raced a bit flat on Saturday and will bounce back when he gets to Randwick in a couple of weeks.

“It’s just very exciting to have horses being aimed at these big races. If we were able to win them it would be unbelievable.