A maiden exactly six months ago on Cup day, the Ballarat-trained entire has won six of his past nine races, his most recent in the group 3 Bart Cummings Stakes which earned him a ticket into the $7.75 million Melbourne Cup.
Co-trainer Eustace said the horse is unrecognisable from the one who joined his stable last summer.
“We got him as a quiet and nervous and timid animal and the first few months were getting him to build his confidence, and credit to the team for doing that,” Eustace said.
“He spent a month at the pre-training farm at Pakenham and they got his confidence up, just doing some dressage and building some condition up.
“He was really worrying the condition off himself, there wasn’t much to work with, but gradually he’s got a bit stronger as he’s got a bit braver throughout life. He’s a confident colt going into the Cup with career-best form.”
Despite the underlying talent in the horse, there was no need for the Maher-Eustace stable to rush Persan to the top level.
Gradually he picked off handicap races, first at Bendigo in May, then three in a row over winter at Flemington and another at Caulfield, before saluting in the Bart Cummings.
It’s the sort of preparation that Cummings himself might have given the horse, who has raced in 2km worth of races since April. If one horse has proven he’s fit enough for the 3200-metre contest, it’s Persan.
“There was no need to jump up a grade unnecessarily, I don’t think that would have done his own confidence any good so we were just keen to keep him at the right level,” Eustace said.
“I should probably think COVID is the reason he didn’t end up going to Queensland for a Queensland Derby and maybe we could thank COVID tomorrow if he won the race, I don’t know.
“He was forced to stay in Victoria and so were we and it’s done him the world of good.
“He certainly likes routine and Dec [Maher] and Nikki [White] who rides him every day have got him in a wonderful routine at Ballarat and you wouldn’t want to change that just at this stage anyway.”
A confident horse in form is a dangerous combination and Eustace is optimistic a Cup win could cap off a fairytale turnaround.
“The change in him, really mentally far more than physically, is quite remarkable,” he said.
“He would get very worked up, very warm in all his work to begin with. This time around he’s had 10 and his first couple in particular he really struggled with the whole occasion but as he’s worked out, it’s an enjoyable process and he’s a very sound horse.
“No doubt horses build confidence as they win races and we’ve seen that grow throughout the last six months.
“He’s done a great job and so have the team in getting him going and racing in such good form. I’m very proud of that and hopefully he can run a nice race.”
Damien Ractliffe is the Chief Racing Reporter for The Age.