AN OMINOUS sense of déjà vu hangs over the Colac Gold Cup two months out from the race.
Defending cup champion Whelan will enter the $60,000 race with the same form line after winning back-to-back Penshurst Cups.
The eight-year-old, owned by Yeo’s Doug and Mary Ann Parker, clinched a 1.3-length victory in the 2000-metre race on Boxing Day from Sylvan Lodge and Diamondsondinside.
Whelan won the 2010 Penshurst Cup before storming home to win the 2011 Colac Gold Cup, and connections have the same plans for him this preparation.
But the Boxing Day win has failed to lift stable hopes about the gelding’s chances come February 26.
Trainer Bill Wilde, who prepares Whelan in partnership with his son Symon, yesterday found positives and negatives from the Penshurst run.
He said the five-horse field was “a fairly moderate race”, and the winning time was more than a second slower than Whelan clocked in his win 12 months earlier.
But he said the saddle slipped 600 metres after the start, meaning jockey Nikita McLean had to balance herself while keeping Whelan in contention.
“I don’t know if he’s improved but I think he’s doing the same. We did expect it because he galloped well during the week,” Wilde said.
“He galloped against the horse we took to Rosehill and he wasn’t far behind it,” he said.
“We did expect a forward showing of him. He’ll certainly improve with the run. He was very disadvantaged so Nikita couldn’t ride him out.”
The Wildes’ stable star Full Peal finished fifth of 12 in the Group Three Summer Cup over 2400 metres at Rosehill after drawing an outside gate and racing without luck.
Wilde said he would not “overdo” Whelan in the nine weeks until the Colac Gold Cup, which is also over 2000 metres.
“We’ll keep him ticking over and try to plan it so he can hit the Colac Cup well,” he said.
“The Colac Cup is usually quite a strong race. Last year he got a lovely run and was beautifully ridden but I don’t think it was the strongest Colac Cup.
“There were a couple of scratchings and everything worked out well.”
Wilde said connections could keep McLean aboard Whelan for the cup, instead of Wayne Hokai, who rode him to victory at Colac this year.