HORSE RACING - KEMBLA GRANGE
The heart and hamstring problems of Group 1 winner Manawanui hopefully solved, Ron Leemon has an air of confidence about saddling up his first winner for the season at Kembla Grange.
The popular Warwick Farm horseman has been forced to juggle a litany of problems with millionaire galloper Manawanui since his Golden Rose win two years ago.
But he has a welcome distraction with a new breed of horse coming through the yard, headlined by debutant Star Of Excellence in the Maiden Plate (1000m) today.
The filly was never pressured when a close-up second in a barrier trial on her home track last month, filling Leemon with confidence she can impress at Kembla.
"I was very impressed with her trial and the form around it appears to be very good," Leemon said. "I'll learn a lot more after [today]. It doesn't look an overly strong field from my first impression of it so I'm expecting her to run well.
"She's a very lean thing, but never has her head out of the feed bin. She can be a bit bitchy ... especially around feed time when she likes to have a kick at anything near her. That's probably her only fault.
"She's one of those fillies with a little bit of nastiness about her, but once you get a hold of her she's lovely to handle."
The main job of handling Star Of Excellence will fall to in-form hoop Jeff Penza.
The speedy daughter of Excellence Art is expected to camp just off the speed from an ideal barrier, with Leemon's main concern to make sure his filly settles in the run.
"She seems too brilliant at this stage [to get over ground]," he said.
"In the trial she just jumped and ran, but that's all you can get them to do over a half-mile.
"I'm hoping Jeff can settle her off the pace and give her a chance to run home."
Manawanui's plight is a little more delicate as Leemon edges the five-year-old towards a very light Lloyd Williams-esque autumn campaign.
The horse pulled up with a heart problem after the Moonga Stakes, which was compounded when he was also found lame post race.
"I'll bring him back in February and give him six to eight weeks of work before turning him out for the spring," Leemon said.
"I just want to test the hamstring out and we think his heart is right as it went back into rhythm. I may barrier trial, I may not barrier trial him.
"I want to get some sort of condition in him and then give a month to six weeks off before a good prep in the spring."