BENDIGO trainer Josh Julus says he cannot fault Just Folk's preparation as the Group 2 winner sets sail for this Saturday's $750,000 C. F. Orr Stakes (1400m) at Caulfield.
For only the second time in the five-year-old gelding's career, Just Folk will be lining up in a coveted Group 1 race.
He finished sixth in last year's Cantala at Flemington on Victoria Derby day, finishing only a length behind the winner Superstorm.
The Julius stable star returned to racing after a 10-week let-up in the Group 2 Australia Stakes at Moonee Valley late last month, finishing eighth, four lengths from the winner, while doing his best work late over the non-preferred 1200m trip.
Ridden last Sunday by the trainer's sister Melissa Julius, he had an exhibition gallop on his home track before the first race on Bendigo Jockey Club member's day, with Julius highly impressed with the hit-out.
"He galloped really well, Melissa was really happy with him," he said.
"His action was good - he worked pretty strongly over 800m.
"Obviously he had the course proper at 11am in comparison to his usual 6am, which is his norm, but it was eyes open, which sparked him up a bit. It was good.
"He still has a bit of tidying up to do physically before he is at his peak this preparation, but I was very happy with that blowout (on Sunday)."
His strong gallop came off the back of a pleasing return to racing in the Australia Stakes at the Valley.
"It was super. If you watch the race, he's arguably the only horse that ran into a bit of trouble," Julius said.
"He got spat out the back, went hard after a bit of an altercation at the 800,
"If we had been able to settle a little bit closer than we ended up, I'd say he would have missed all that ruckus he was in amongst at the top of the straight as well.
"Arguably he could have finished a lot closer, but it's far from his grand final and an almost perfect first day out for him this preparation.
"They certainly weren't running away from him, obviously the winner (Marabi) looked a very smart horse and lines up in an Oakleigh late next start.
"If it was to come out and win an Oakleigh Plate, we would look at ourselves and say we did well to be within four lengths of it first up.
"We're on track - it's obviously going to be harder next start, we are stepping up from Group 1 to Group 2 company.
"But hopefully we can draw well. We know we have a horse, who has got a run under his belt in comparison to a few others.
"I'm sure he'll give a good account of himself."
The end-target, or 'grand final' as Julius terms it remains the All-Star Mile at Flemington on March 19.
With the first 10 horses included in the field voted in by the public, Just Folk currently sits 19th in order with 1224 votes.
Ranked 10th, the Peter Moody-trained Lightsaber has 2786 votes, while last year's Melbourne Cup winner and 2020 Caulfield Cup winner Very Elleegant is a runaway leader on 11,982 votes.
With voting closing at 11.59 this Sunday (February 13), Julius is hoping for a late surge, but he will be far from discouraged if unable to crack the top 10.
"We are going to need a little bit more help, we have just dropped a little bit by the wayside with the voting, but we're still hovering around that top 15 or so,"
"Obviously we've earmarked the Blamey Stakes as well, which is three weeks after the Orr Stakes, and that's a win and you are in (the All-Star Mile ) race.
"Regardless of the voting, we were always aiming at that race because it's two weeks out from the All-Star Mile and it made sense to be there anyway.
"And then there's the hope of a wildcard nomination.
"All's not over if we don't get the votes, but if anyone hasn't voted they still can and get behind the Bendigo horse."
A winner of five of 17 starts for earnings of $378,938, Just Folk notched a breakthrough Group 2 win in the $300,000 Crystal Mile at Moonee Valley last October.
He will be ridden on Saturday by Dean Holland, who has partnered the son of Magnus and Fast Ruby three times, including in his second in the Listed Paris Lane Stakes at Flemington last October and the Cantala.
To vote for Just Folk, visit https://www.allstarmile.com.au/horse-profiles/just-folk
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