Ellsberg scores dominant win in the Festival Stakes

Ellsberg could join stablemate Steely in the showpiece race of the Sydney summer after dominating his rivals to score a comfortable victory in the Group 3 Festival Stakes at his home track.

Co-trainer Sterling Alexiou confirmed the $750,000 Villiers Stakes (1600m) at Randwick in a fortnight is under consideration after the four-year-old gave his supporters an easy watch in comfortably taking out Saturday’s 1500 metre Rosehill feature.

Ellsberg is the second horse in as many weeks to emerge from the Golden Eagle to win a feature race after Count De Rupee saluted in The Gong, and Alexiou said Ellsberg enjoyed being able to settle outside the lead on Saturday.

“That inside barrier probably cruelled him a bit in the Eagle the other day. He doesn’t appreciate being cluttered up,” Alexiou said.

“Once he could get outside the leader and work into the race when he wanted to, it was going to take him a long way towards winning the race.

“He’s still learning. He still wandered a bit on the bend today but in time, hopefully he will iron that out and I think he is a very progressive horse who can get right through his classes.”

While Alexiou and training partner Gerald Ryan are yet to lock in a Villiers start for Ellsberg, the race does carry a ballot exemption for the Doncaster Mile and Alexiou admits that alone is tempting.

“If he could get into a race like that (Doncaster), obviously he races on speed, he’d be down in the weights, a lot of big Randwick miles have been won like that,” Alexiou said.

“If not, those Doncaster Preludes, Scone Cups, even maybe onto a Stradbroke with a light weight. He is definitely a horse on the way up.”

Ellsberg’s win continued a good run for the stable, which has produced nine winners from its past 20 runners after enduring a lean patch earlier in the spring.

Alexiou said good barriers and good rides had been the key to the turnaround.

Rachel King’s effort on Ellsberg was a case in point, with the top jockey utilising the horse’s ability to build into a race, pressuring leader Prime Candidate before the turn and maintaining his sprint to the line.

“He was the best horse on paper and had the best form around him, he just had to stand up and do it on a heavy track, which he coped really well with,” King said

Ellsberg ($2.40 fav) scored by 1-1/4 lengths over an eye-catching Stockman ($18) with Bandersnatch ($6) another two lengths in arrears.

Stockman’s trainer Joe Pride confirmed he would press on and chase the Villiers Stakes – Summer Cup double.

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