Trainer Darren McAuliffe is confident he has the firepower to win the Group 2 Lee Steere Stakes (1400m) for a second time at Ascot on Saturday, headed by The Velvet King.
With The Velvet King and recent Group 1 champion, Gatting, a winner of last year’s Lee Steere Stakes, McAuliffe takes a potent two-pronged attack in the $250,000 feature.
Gatting returns to his home patch on the back of after a successful Melbourne campaign that featured victory in the Group 1 Makybe Diva Stakes (1600m) at Flemington in September.
The Velvet King, a four-year-old, can join his stable mate at racing’s elite level when he tackles the Group 1 Railway Stakes (1600m) on November 23.
The Universal Ruler gelding ensured his spot in Western Australia’s premier mile race with an authoritative last-start win in the Group 3 Northerly Stakes (1400m).
McAuliffe is optimistic about both his runners and has affection for both, but holds high regard for The Velvet King.
“I think and I’ve been saying this for a year and a half, but The Velvet King is a better horse,” McAuliffe told Tabradio.
“He has been doing everything that he has been doing as an immature horse both physically and mentally.
“He is like the boy that has turned into a man. You look at him now and he is bigger and stronger and more robust.”
The Velvet King tuned up for the Lee Steere Stakes with a comfortable trial win on Monday.
He will be ridden by regular jockey, Mitch Pateman.
McAuliffe says he is the horse to beat.
“His trial was nice and soft and gave them horses a bit of a galloping lesson,” McAuliffe said.
“He is tip-top and I can’t fault him and I’m very, very confident he will run a nice race on Saturday.
“Especially with the weather conditions the way they are going to be.
“When the temperature gets up and with hot easterly winds they can really run some time.
“He’s a horse (The Velvet King) that is very good at that and rolling at good sectionals.
“He doesn’t necessarily have to lead, but I honestly couldn’t see them beating The Velvet King to be honest.
“He has improved that much from the last start.
“I think they will be struggling.”
Chris Parnham will take the Gatting mount.