“The plan was always the Golden Eagle with him. We were hoping off the back of Queensland we could have turned him around a bit quicker and had the Golden Eagle as the grand final,” Bott said.
“But we just had to give him a little longer out after Queensland than we had originally hoped, so it meant the program got pushed back and we got to the Golden Eagle second up and it might have told.”
Dawn Passage has always been considered just under the top of his generation. He started favourite in the Stradbroke in June, where he finished seventh, and then showed in the Golden Eagle on a very heavy track that he has a big race win in him.
“He loomed up to win it,” Bott said. “He seemed to handle the conditions well, which was a concern going into the race, but being second-up on a testing track like that just found him out in that last bit.
“There is still a bit of natural improvement, and to a mile third-up on his preferred firm surface, it just looks a nice profile race for him on Saturday.
“Being an older horse now, he is improving with racing. He is just taking that bit more work to find to his peak.
“Provided the Golden Eagle run hasn’t flattened him, and it doesn’t look like it has on what he is doing at home, I think he is the one to beat.”
Dawn Passage and Purple Sector are likely to see a lot of each other in the next six months, and The Gong could set the pecking order as connections eye the Doncaster next year.
Thompson admits he has a different horse this spring. Purple Sector has produced wins on the biggest cards of the year: Everest day at Randwick and Melbourne Cup day at Flemington.
“He was always a horse that you felt was holding a bit back as a bull,” Thompson said. “We are finding out how much now.
“If you watch F1, he is named after the purple sector, which is an indication of the fastest sectionals on a racetrack, and that’s what he is producing now.
“His sectionals were the best of the day on Everest day. He ran his last 600m quicker than Classique Legend on that day.
“I thought his Melbourne win was incredible because he never traveled and just ground it out and won. That’s not something he used to do.
“He has come home from Melbourne and done everything right, and I think the mile is going to be his trip.”
Dawn Passage and Purple Sector have been the best backed runners in The Gong and have swapped favouritism a couple of times this week already.
Dawn Passage, which opened at $6, is the $4.60 top pick at Sportsbet, just in front of Purple Sector, which has firmed from $6.50 to $5.
Racing writer for The Sydney Morning Herald