A rejuvenated and much stronger local hero Catch The Thief is primed to fly the Gippsland flag in Friday night’s Group 2 Evans Petroleum Warragul Cup heats.
Trainer Matt Clark, who’s based at Briagolong, gave Catch The Thief a short but well-earned break after the Melbourne Cup heats in late November to set the multiple Group 1 finalist up for what he’s hoping will be bumper 2021.
“I really wanted to give him a break because he’d had a really tough 12 months,” said Clark.
“He’s been racing all over Australia against the best dogs going around so we gave him a three or four week let-up, with the aim to reset and start again in the New Year.”
Catch The Thief resumed on Ballarat Cup night, winning a match race in a fast 24.92s, after which he headed to Sydney for the Group 3 Christmas Gift Shootout where he again won his match race but finished second on overall times.
“After that he ran a super second to Simon Told Helen at The Meadows but then he got an infected larynx,” Clark explained.
“So he’s going into Warragul fresh, which he needed to be over 460m because he’s more a 500m dog now.
“I really can’t believe how strong he’s got.
“He used to be a one-trick pony – he’d go to the front and break their hearts – but now he’s not as quick early but he’s a hell of a lot stronger.”
Catch The Thief has won three of his five starts at Warragul, including the Group 3 St Leger at his most recent appearance at the track on August 8.
Drawn in box eight in the last of six Cup heats, Catch The Thief is TAB’s $1.85 favourite, while he’s on the fourth line of all-in betting at $8.
“He’s drawn the right box and right field so hopefully he makes it through,” Clark said.
“He’s being called the face of Gippsland so I’m hoping that doesn’t mozz him!”
The son of Aussie Infrared boasts the exceptional strike rate of 20 wins from his 39 starts, having raced exclusively in elite company for his last 25 starts, since winning the Group 2 WA Derby in May.
Catch The Thief has contested Group 1 events in South Australia (runner-up in the Adelaide Cup), NSW (fourth to litter brother and kennelmate Playlist in the Vic Peters) and Victoria (Topgun) and Clark believes his best is still ahead of him.
“The thing that stands out for me is that he’s only been unplaced eight times in his whole life,” Clark offered proudly.
“That’s a phenomenal effort and speaks for itself.
“We probably won’t see the best of Catch The Thief for a few months but when we do I think he’ll be a better dog than he was.”
Clark plans to tackle the third and final leg of the Gippsland Festival of Racing, the heats of the Group 2 Cranbourne Cup on January 30, electing to bypass the Paws Of Thunder in Sydney due to ongoing uncertainty in interstate travel.