Vigor shows it's not all shock and awe

While last year's Melbourne Cup winner Shocking was the talk of the track, another performer in Saturday's Makybe Diva Stakes showed he'd lost nothing in his quest for cups success this year.

The Danny O'Brien-trained Vigor was perhaps a victim of circumstances in the weekend's weight-for-age encounter.

While nothing could be taken away from Shocking, who was far from peak fitness but easily put paid to an impressive field, Vigor's performance was well worth noting.

After jumping away, Vigor was forced to go to the front in a somewhat uncustomary role but once there he had to contend with pressure from former English stayer Speed Gifted.

"It wasn't the ideal position to be in as he didn't get any time to relax and dictate the tempo. But he fought hard and he fought well and probably in the last little bit he blew out," O'Brien said.

"But I think Speed Gifted didn't help his cause because he was applying pressure a long way from home."

Even with 200 metres to go Vigor was fighting bravely and was countering the finishing performance of Heart Of Dreams, but could not withstand Shocking's withering burst in the closing stages.

"He did a good job, a really good job. But he just ran out of puff in the closing stages," jockey James Winks said.

Vigor is now very much primed for this year's Caulfield and Melbourne cups double after luck deserted the stable last year when the horse missed a run in both major handicaps.

But his third on Saturday and the fact that he's not wound up to peak fitness is a message that Vigor will be a major player in the weeks to come.

Speed Gifted, last year's Metropolitan Handicap winner in Sydney, kept the pressure on Vigor until the home turn, when it became obvious the import was struggling. Luke Nolen didn't hurt the horse in the closing stages.

In fact, Nolen reported to racing Victoria stewards that the Lee Freedman-trained stayer pulled up poorly and asked stewards to perform a thorough veterinary examination on the horse.

Speed Gifted was firm in the market at $6.50, but eventually finished eighth in a puzzling performance.

Just as puzzling was the effort of South Australian stayer Rebel Raider, who came to Flemington after a brilliant win in Adelaide a fortnight ago.

But much to the disappointment of trainer Leon Macdonald and jockey Clare Lindop, he was the first stayer beaten when the pressure went on over the final 300 metres.

Both are assuming that the shifting track caused his failure.

Story by Patrick Bartley, to view full Age story click here

Photo by Bruno Cannatelli, to view Bruno's website click here