ASTUTE Strathfieldsaye horseman Glenn Douglas has for a long time viewed Torrid Saint as a potential breakout Group 1 performer.
But even he admits the five-year-old gelding's appearance in a crack $300,000 Victoria Cup (2150m) field at Lord's Raceway this Saturday night has come earlier than anticipated.
The son of Shadow Play and Torridon - owned by Swan Hill racing identity Noel Watson - rang in the new year by winning a modest NR 72 to 79 race at Lord's Raceway, on the same night one of his rivals this weekend Wolf Stride took out the $70,000 Group 2 Bendigo Pacing Cup.
It would be Torrid Saint's last win for 11 starts until breaking the drought at Tabcorp Park Melton in early June in a NR 70 to 79 race.
The versatile Julie Douglas-trained gelding has not looked back since, winning a further three metro races, including the Popular Alm Sprint at Kilmore, and being placed a in a further six free for all or Group races.
An excellent run of form was capped last weekend with an eye-catching and narrow second in the Group 1 Smoken Up Sprint at Bendigo.
Those performances have Torrid Saint as the equal fourth favourite for the cup at $9.50, behind King Of Swing ($2.50), Amazing Dream ($3.70) and Triple Eight ($6.50).
"We always thought he had potential, but didn't think it would click so quickly," Douglas said.
"For him to take the steps he has, especially in the last two or three months, it's quite astounding.
"He's really found his niche. Early on, I used to question his desire to win, but now he certainly has not only the desire, but the ability to be racing in these types of races and he is certainly not out of it."
Douglas, like every other driver and trainer involved in the race, breathed a sigh of relief during Monday's barrier draw when the short-priced favourite King Of Swing drew the worst possible alley, outside the back row (gate 12).
Fears of the dual Miracle Mile winner being gifted the race with a front-row draw were quickly alleviated.
"It changed the whole complexion of the race," Douglas said.
"Even with General Dodge (gate 10), with them coming off the front, they just roll to the top and it puts a whole different spin on the race.
"It's terrible to look on someone else's misfortune, but (King Of Swing) drawing badly just adds some more intrigue to the race and has made it an even more exciting and tactical race."
The news only got better for the Strathfieldsaye stable when Torrid Saint drew gate one.
Douglas, who has relinquished the training reins to wife Julie this season, insists if Torrid Saint was ever going to be truly competitive in a race like this one, he would need to draw a good gate.
"We've got the draw and I couldn't be happier with that, now we've just got to utilise it," he said.
"It's a pretty even front line I feel ... I think we're going to be in front for a long way.
"I don't know exactly how the race is going to pan out, but we will be using the draw and putting ourselves into the race early and trying to sustain our good position.
"I'll press forward, but I can see a few suitors on the outside lining us up.
"It will be a nice tempo and because of the evenness of the front line, it does help us to want to be able to hold that lead and give ourselves every chance."
Despite countless feature and cup race wins and a swag of trainer's premierships, the Victoria Cup has always evaded Douglas.
If the stable is able to effect an upset, Douglas admits it would be a nice touch doing it on their home track, with the Bendigo Harness Racing Club hosting not only this race for the first time, but also the finals of the Victoria Derby and Victoria Oaks.
"For a Victoria Cup to leave Melton would have been unheard of when harness racing first went there, and although these are unusual circumstances, it's a great coup for Bendigo that we can hold a race like this," he said.
"It would be amazing to say it was out of Melton, in a regional area and a regional trainer wins it.
"It would be awesome for Julie and awesome for Noel Watson, who is a great harness racing man, and has shown a lot of support for this stable.
"It will be a highlight just having his horse in it, let alone if we happen to snag it."
We've got the draw and I couldn't be happier with that, now we've just got to utilise it.Glenn Douglas
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