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By Graham Potter | Saturday, May 13, 2023

It is not an overstatement to say that the five-year-old gelding National Choice has found a new lease of life since joining the Robert Heathcote stable.

When he saluted in a BM80 Handicap over 1350m on May 13, 2023 under a telling ride from Mark Du Plessis the son of Snitzel was winning for the third time in five starts for the Heathcote stable. He had also finished second and third in those other two starts when never more than 1,17 lengths behind the winner.

Given that form, it is hard to believe that you have to go back to April 26, 2020 to find his previous win, which actually came on debut.

Interestingly enough, the seventeen runs National Choice had for the Mick Price and Michael Kent (Jnr) training partnership included runs in both the Group 3 Caulfield Guineas Prelude (in which he finished third behind Crosshaven) and the $2 million, 2020, Group 1 Caulfield Guineas (won by Ole Kirk) … so there was certainly no shortage of perceived ability or ambition with regard to this runner.

Mark Du Plessis, who has ridden National Choice in two of the three wins for the Heathcote stable, was again at his best in piloting National Choice to his latest victory by a 0.30 length margin.

When an ordinary beginning by National Choice left the Heathcote runner surrounded by horse in a packed midfield in the early stages, Du Plessis asked national choice to quicken up just enough to clear the bulk of the traffic congestion to settle in seventh place some five lengths off the leader as the field went down the back straight.

Saving ground racing alongside the inside rail, National Choice improved up to sixth … then fifth place … to be within striking distance of the lead on straightening.

But, just as the start was a little bit awkward, so was the run home.

While National Choice did accelerate beautifully down the inside rail in the early part of the home straight to quickly move up into third place, approaching the 250m mark, that route became a dead-end.

For a brief moment National Choice was in a precarious position with the leader Constant flight ($12) blocking his path forward and Miss Baltimore ($26) to his outside threatening to keep National Choice trapped on the rail, but Du Plessis didn’t hesitate and his quick action was crucial to the outcome.

The vastly experienced rider took hold of his mount, switched National Choice marginally out across the heels of Constant Flight before urging National Choice through a narrow gap between Constant flight and Miss Baltimore … taking the lead … and then ensuring that National Choice was strong enough to hold out a hoard of challenges that were arriving a flourish down the middle of the track.

This was a big win in its own right with National Choice overcoming two sets of difficulties (at the start and in the home straight).

“I suppose it would be easy to put out hands in the air and say what a wonderful job we have done with this horse, but I’m sure we haven’t done anything different to Mick Price and Michael Kent who are a very good stable,” said trainer Robert Heathcote.

“The horse has simple not put a hoof wrong since he has joined us … so whether there was a bug or clinical issue that he had that couldn’t be detected … or whether it was that the time off between stable changes healed whatever the problem was … we just don’t know.

“He has just got better and better. He does the right thing at the right time of the race and Mark Du Plessis is forming a nice little relationship with the horse which obviously is a big plus.”

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Photos: Darren Winningham
Photos: Darren Winningham
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