Gary Portelli Warms to Fireburn’s Chances in ATC Australian Oaks

A conversation in the jockeys’ room at Hawkesbury has Gary Portelli optimistic he might just pull off the unthinkable with Fireburn in the ATC Australian Oaks.

Portelli didn’t realistically believe last year’s Golden Slipper winner would stretch to a middle-distance in the Vinery Stud Stakes, let alone be in contention for Saturday’s Group 1 classic, but he suddenly finds himself warming to her chances.

His confidence has been fuelled by apprentice Tyler Schiller, who has been bubbling with enthusiasm over Fireburn’s Vinery performance where she finished a gritty third to dominant winner Prowess, who isn’t lining up on Saturday.

“I talked to Tyler about it yesterday (Wednesday) in the jockeys’ room at Hawkesbury and he said he was most impressed by the fact he couldn’t stop her after the 2000-metre race, she took him right around the back straight,” Portelli said.

“After trying to pull her up he said, ‘mate, I’ve got to ride this in the Oaks’.

“Talking to him yesterday about the race, he’s very keen on her chances and the way she races, she will settle, she’ll do everything right.”

Fireburn, a $6.50 chance for the Oaks (2400m), was dominant on wet tracks last autumn and with Randwick rated a heavy 9 on Thursday, she is set to strike her favoured conditions for the first time this campaign.

She came off the bridle a long way from home in the Vinery when the field sprinted but stuck to her task and Portelli said she wouldn’t be left flat-footed on a wet surface.

“The fact they were on top of the ground, all those horses with a better turn of foot get away from us but when it came to digging in late, she looked good,” he said.

“When it’s heavy, she accelerates better than anyone.”

While happy Fireburn is as good as he can get her, Portelli is also realistic.

Only one filly has won the Golden Slipper and returned 12 months later to claim Sydney’s Oaks and that was Bounding Away 36 years ago.

“It goes to show you how hard it is to do. We know what we’re climbing and it’s a big mountain,” he said.

Fireburn isn’t the only member of her family contesting a black-type race at Randwick.

Half-brother Kintyre lines up in the Listed Fernhill Mile (1600m) as a $4.80 chance and after winning his maiden two starts ago then being narrowly denied last time out, Portelli rates him as “one of the most improved horses in the stable”.

If Kintyre performs as expected, he will back-up in next weekend’s Group 1 Champagne Stakes (1600m).

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