Prominent owners Brae Sokolski and Ozzie Kheir are used to winning major races and have an embarrassment of riches at their disposal, but even they have been surprised at the huge strides Incentivise has taken since they acquired him over the winter.
Having extended his winning streak to eight races thanks to back-to-back Group 1 victories, Incentivise now has legitimate claims to the mantle of Australia’s best racehorse. That is quite some rise for a horse which finished eighth – beaten 16 lengths – in a Toowoomba Maiden just over six months ago.
Incentivise’s burgeoning reputation was enhanced by the fact that the beaten brigade in the Group 1 Turnbull Stakes (2000m) at Flemington included Verry Elleegant, who until Saturday’s race had set the standard in Australian racing with nine Group 1 wins to her name.
Sokolski and Kheir would have experienced split loyalties watching the Turnbull from their respective living rooms, with the pair both also involved – albeit to a lesser extent – in Verry Elleegant’s ownership group.
In the clash billed as the heavyweight champ versus the emerging contender, it was the newcomer who stamped his class and whilst Sokolski may have felt a tinge of sadness to see Verry Elleegant’s colours being lowered, the excitement generated by Incentivise’s stratospheric rise more than made up for it.
“The mare [Verry Elleegant] is still an out and out champion and he [Incentivise] now has the world at his feet,” said Sokolski.
“There’s been so much hype around the horse, so it was great to see him live up to it.
“Going into the race, Brett [Prebble] felt he had come on leaps and bounds from his Makybe Diva run, and that’s how it proved. There’s no keeping him under wraps now or protecting him in cotton wool, he’s now up there to be shot at and is a worthy favourite for the Caulfield Cup.”
Whilst Verry Elleegant won’t be heading to Caufield next Saturday to defend her Carlton Draught Caulfield Cup (2400m) crown, a possible rematch with Incentivise could take place at The Valley later this month in the 101st edition of the Ladbrokes Cox Plate (2040m).
The Caulfield Cup-Melbourne Cup double – which he is quoted at only $10 to achieve – remains the primary spring goal for Incentivise; but with all options still on the table bookmakers are taking no chances with his Cox Plate prospects. The five-year-old gelding is currently on the fourth line of betting at $11 behind the odds-on favourite Zaaki, who is widely expected to win his third Group 1 in the Neds Might and Power (2000m) at Caulfield this Saturday for his ownership group, which includes Neil Werrett of Black Caviar fame.
With spectators already ruled out from attending either the Caulfield Cup or the Cox Plate, Sokolski is resigned to the fact that he is unlikely to be trackside to witness what he hopes will be an historic campaign for Incentivise, but is happy to count his blessings from the comfort of his couch.
“There’s a bittersweet element not being able to be there in person, but we’ve got to be grateful that racing has continued throughout the pandemic so watching the races on the TV from my lounge is definitely the next best thing,” he said.