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Wöhler wonders if it's third time lucky

words by EMMA BERRY


photography by DARREN MCNAMARA

Andreas Wohler claims that it is the Sportingbet Cox Plate he'd really love to win, but the German trainer may have to settle for an assault on the Emirates Melbourne Cup instead this year with an improving (northern hemisphere) four-year-old who looks tailor-made for the job.

Aside from the proliferation of Sadler's Wells' descendants, the European staying ranks have been bolstered in recent years by the offspring of the late Monsun, sire of last year's Melbourne Cup winner Fiorente and of Wohler's able contender Protectionist.

While possessing undoubted ability, the colt has endured his share of bad luck throughout a three-season career that has seen him have just eight runs. From four of those he has returned triumphant, including his two most recent back-to-back Group 2 wins in Germany and France, and he has never finished out of the first three.

"He's always been a very straightforward horse—he's very relaxed and he settles really well in his races," says 52-year-old Wohler, who has trained at the 100-year-old Gestut Ravensberg in Gutersloh, towards the north-east of Germany, since 2004.

Wohler has, however, been training since 1985 and e has been responsible for three Deutsches Derby winners—Pik Konig (1992), Belenus (1999) and Forest Park (2011)—as well as such big names as Lomitas, Mi Emma, Waldpark, Earl Of Tinsdal and the globetrotting duo of Paolini and Silvano.

It is the latter who gave the trainer his first taste of racing in Australia when he lined up for the 2001 Cox Plate, in which ridden by Austrian Andreas Suborics he finished fourth to Northerly. Paolini tried three years later but was down the field in 10th place.

"My main target was always the Cox Plate—it's a race I love and I hope to win it one day," Wohler states.

"When we came for the Cox Plate it was a great experience; we learnt a lot from it. Not everything went right but we hope that this time it will."

While not everything went right in Australia, Silvano's world travels included victories in the Singapore Cup, Queen Elizabeth II Cup in Hong Kong and the Arlington Million in Chicago, while Paolini bagged two Group 1 wins in Italy and the Dubai Duty Free on World Cup night at Nad Al Sheba. Wohler's team is clearly experienced in campaigning top-class horses around the world and underlined the point in emphatic fashion at Ascot last year when Novellist won the King George VI and Queen Elizabeth Stakes by five lengths.

Yet another talented son of Monsun, Novellist, now at stud in Japan, shares his owner/breeder Dr Christoph Berglar with Melbourne Cup hopeful Protectionist.

While Novellist was laying down claims last year to be the leading middle-distance horse in Europe, Protectionist should have been striving for Classic success but after winning the Listed Derby Trial at Bremen at the end of June, a freak training accident scuppered the rest of his season.

Wohler recalls: "It has been very frustrating. He was lame after his second Group race at two and then came back and won the Listed Derby Trial at three. Then, when he was one of the favourtites for the Derby, he had an accident with a deer, which ran into him—we train in the country—and had to have the rest of the season off. But he always comes back; he has great character."

That strength of character has allowed Protectionist to string together four runs so far this season, with two runner-up finishes in Germany, before winning the 2400m Hansa-Preis (Group 2) in Hamburg and backing up in the Prix Kergorlay (Group 2) over 3000m in Deauville in August.

In 2010, the Kergorlay was used as a springboard for Melbourne by that year's Cup winner Americain, who also took out the Geelong Cup en route to his most famous success. Protectionist will follow a similar path, although not necessarily through Geelong.

"He's travelling to Newmarket to start quarantine next week (mid-September) and then he will have a prep race in Australia before the Melbourne Cup, but I'm not sure which one yet," says the trainer.

"He has form on soft ground but he's also won on faster ground. He's pretty versatile, but he wouldn't run if the ground was rock hard.

"I think he's the ideal horse to cope with the travelling as he has a great temperament. He's speedy enough with a turn of foot—they need a bit of that—and I'm not worried about the distance."

(After Emma Berry wrote this article for Inside Racing magazine Protectionist ran his prep race at Caulfield on October 11, finishing a strong and unlucky fourth in the Group 2 Herbert Power Handicap (2400m), a "be on me in the Cup" performance. He is high up in markets for the $6 million race.

Inside Racing magazine is on sale now.)

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