The strongest field assembled in Australia this season confronts Hartnell in Saturday’s G1 Makybe Diva Stakes at Flemington.
But the star of Godolphin’s local stable still stands above the opposition in a race that can provide him with a third G1 success and confirm his place among the world’s top echelon of racehorses.
Hartnell (James Cummings/Kerrin McEvoy) comes to the Makybe Diva off a hollow victory in the G2 PB Lawrence takes at Caulfield.
“Not only were we very impressed by his return in the Lawrence, but we’ve been very pleased with him in between runs,” Cummings said.
“He looked like he absorbed that first-up run even better than his preliminary training. It’s a really good sign.
“The team in Melbourne said he strode into his gallop on Tuesday really stylishly and is full of confidence going into this race, which he’ll need to be.”
Cummings acknowledges the Makybe Diva is a more difficult assignment than the 1400m of the Lawrence.
Against that is the return to Flemington, the scene of Hartnell’s most recent G1 victory, and the step out to 1600m.
“This race is that little bit stronger than what he faced first-up and Hartnell might be a little vulnerable from that perspective,” the trainer said.
“But he’s certainly giving us all the indications that he’s ready to fire."
“We’re very excited about his prospects on the weekend and getting him into his preferred environment where he gets out on a big track and can use his big galloping action.”
On a day when Winx, the only horse rated more highly than him in Australia, attempts her 20th consecutive win in Sydney, Hartnell meets the best of the rest in a race in which no fewer than 14 G1 winners are entered.
For Cummings, the Makybe Diva is his first attempt at the top level since becoming head trainer of Godolphin in Australia in July.
“Group Ones are what we’re striving for, they’re more than just another race,” Cummings said.
“If we can get one with Hartnell and keep him at that top level, then we’ll be absolutely delighted, not just to achieve a weight-for-age Group One win, but to see a plan come off that’s been a long time in the making.
“I’ve seen it done before. It’s very hard to do and we have plenty of healthy respect for the opposition, so from that perspective we’ll be very grateful if he can do it on the day.”
The Makybe Diva comes in a week when Hartnell was awarded topweight in the G1 Caufield Cup and was made second topweight in the Melbourne Cup, prompting praise from chief handicapper Greg Carpenter.
“Hartnell proved he was one of the best horses in the world in the G1 Turnbull Stakes,” Carpenter said.
“His winning return in the PB Lawrence Stakes at Caulfield last month was very impressive, so he is ideally suited to the Caulfield Cup and is a worthy topweight.”