New Zealand news briefs

Classic targets for Marsh duo

Cambridge trainer Stephen Marsh is looking forward to tackling some Classic targets with a pair of promising three-year-olds.

Last start Listed 3YO Salver (2100m) winner Milford has returned to Marsh’s barn after a light freshen-up and is being set for a tilt at the Gr.1 Vodafone New Zealand Derby (2400m) at Ellerslie on March 6.

Marsh has been pleased with the way he has returned and is eyeing the Gr.2 Avondale Guineas (2100m) as his lead-in race for the big dance.

“He has been great and he is really going well,” Marsh said. “He just had a week in the paddock, and he arrived back in the stable on Tuesday and he is on track for the Derby. He will run in the Avondale Guineas.”

Zee Falls is also on course for a tilt at Classic spoils, with Marsh eyeing the Gr.1 Al Basti Equiworld Dubai New Zealand Oaks (2400m) with the Sacred Falls filly.

She was victorious in the Gr.3 Wellington Stakes (1600m) in her last start in November and will resume her three-year-old preparation at Karaka on Saturday in the Karaka Million 3YO Classic (1600m).

“We are certainly using this (Saturday) as a lead-up run,” Marsh said. “We want to target her at the Oaks. 

“She is going to improve with this run, it’s just a steppingstone, and come March she is going to be cherry ripe for the Oaks.”

On Saturday Marsh will also line-up Callissident in the DoubleTree By Hilton Karaka Million 2YO (1200m).

She has placed fourth in her last two starts, including the Gr.2 Wakefield Challenge Stakes (1100m) at Trentham last month.

“She is improving with every start,” he said. “I really like the way she is going. The side winkers go on and after drawing an inside marble (1) I think she definitely warrants being in the race. 

“I think she will go better than what her price would suggest. It has ended up an even field and I think she will race really well.”

Marsh will also line-up Pretty To Sea in the Gr.3 Brighthill Farm Concorde Handicap (1200m), Pierina in the Gr.2 Westbury Classic (1400m), and So Gorgeous in the Gr.3 Cambridge Stud Almanzor Trophy (1200m).

“Pierina has been going some great races and any rain will help,” Marsh said. “If the track ends up too good we might just go to the Thorndon (Gr.1, 1600m), but she deserves a crack.

“Pretty To Sea races very well at Ellerslie. It is a big field, but I am very happy with her.

“And with So Gorgrous we wanted to have a go at the Karaka Mile if we could. So we went 1400m – 1500m and she doesn’t quite get the trip, so we are bringing her back to 1200m. She can definitely turn her form around.” 

Milford, picture Trish Dunell

Te Akau vying for five-peat 

Two years ago Probabeel overcame her outside barrier to win the Karaka Million 2YO (1200m) and trainer Jamie Richards is hoping another of his runners can replicate that performance in the Doubletree By Hilton sponsored race on Saturday.

Richards highlighted On The Bubbles as the leading chance of Te Akau’s quintet in the race prior to the barrier draw and he is still standing by that call after drawing the outside barrier with the undefeated gelding on Wednesday.

“We have won it from out there before, so why can’t we do it again?” Richards said.

“He is going to need a bit of luck, that is all.”

On The Bubbles is undefeated in his two starts to date, including a three length victory at Ellerslie earlier this month.

“I like the fact that he is a winner and he has come through the right race, and he couldn’t have been more impressive last start. He is going the right way,” Richards said.

On The Bubbles was purchased by Te Akau principal David Ellis out of Lenach Lodge’s New Zealand Bloodstock Book 1 Yearling Sale draft for $90,000.

Richards will also line-up four other runners in the rich two-year-old feature, including Sophisticardo (barrier 8), Sneaky Shark (barrier 10), Millefiori (barrier five), and Avonallo (barrier nine).

Avonallo was purchased by Chris Rutten for $30,000 out of Little Avondale Stud’s Book 2 New Zealand Bloodstock sale draft.

Rutten races the son of Belardo in partnership with Little Avondale Stud, and he isn’t new to success on Karaka Million night.

The Horowhenua horseman has tasted victory in both the two and three-year-old races through the deeds of Vespa and Scott Base respectively.

Avonallo will be ridden by Lisa Allpress on Saturday and Rutten said she was pleased with the colt following his track work a few days ago.

“I will leave it to the jockey where she goes from there (barrier nine),” Rutten said. 

“Lisa has been riding really well and she is in form at the moment. It is great to have her onboard. 

“She was rapt when she came up and worked him the other day.”

Te Akau will be looking to make it five wins on-end in the Karaka Million 2YO (1200m), having won the last four editions through the deeds of Melody Belle (2017), Avantage (2018), Probabeel (2019), and Cool Aza Beel (2020). 

Te Akau vying for five-peat 

A promise made by Janet Hepi to one day send a mare to Hallmark Stud has resulted in Super Strike, the winner of the Gr.3 Anniversary Handicap (1600m) at Trentham on Saturday.

“Dad had a farm right opposite Hallmark, and quite often I would wander over to see the horses,” said Hepi, the daughter of prominent Auckland businessman and breeder Lou Fisher. 

“Denny (Baker, Hallmark Stud) always knew how much I loved horses, and he would always say why don’t you send me a mare to one of my horses and I kept saying I will one day.

“I loved watching Prom Queen race and that prompted me to take a look at Super Easy. So, I phoned Denny and asked him about sending a mare. He said you mean you are finally sending me a horse, and Super Strike, or Toby as I call him, is the result.

“It’s wonderful for both of us, Denny is as thrilled as I am about Toby and I’m pleased for Super Easy.”

Hepi races Super Strike in the colours made famous by her father - an emerald jacket, black braces, cerise sleeves and cap, the colours were carried by the great sprinter Yahabeebee.

“I get such a thrill watching those colours,” Hepi said. “I had such a special Dad and Uncle (Sir Woolf Fisher) who introduced me to horses so it’s important to me that I use those colours and continue their dynasty.”

Trained at Pukekohe by Richard Collett, the now four-year-old has been to the races nine times for five wins, three seconds and a third.

Super Strike won on debut in November as a three-year-old. He was placed at his next two starts but severely injured his hindquarter and was out for a prolonged spell, and there was some doubt as to whether he would come back.

“Richard has been really patient with him,” Hepi said. “It was a matter of wait and see. 

“When he came out and won his first race back, Richard was still saying let’s wait and see. Then he won his next race and I said to Richard perhaps he’s okay now.”  

Super Strike was beaten a nose at his next start before coming out and winning an open handicap at Ellerslie. He returned in late September last year and won fresh up over 1200m at Ellerslie and backed up three weeks later on the same track and won over 1400m. 

At his home track in late November he went down by a nose over 1400m, before returning to Auckland in mid-December to win at that distance. His next run was in the Stella Artois 1500 Championship Final where he chased home Mai Tai Before heading to Trentham where he got up to win the prestigious mile event by a nose in the last bound. 

“He’s got a real personality, he loves to show off he has an attitude and is a bit of a naughty boy,” Hepi quipped. “l think he just loves going past all the other horses, and that’s why he settles at the rear.

“I am so proud of him I just love horses so much. I love to spend time with them giving them apples and carrots. I had his grandmother and his mother. His mother Becky (Southern Touch) I gave to Sue Ellis to train when she went to Australia, as she had trained a couple of horses for me before that. Well Becky did everything right on the training track, but on the race track I think she went out just to smell the roses, as she let everything go past her and kept tailing the field. In the end I sent her to Written Tycoon and bought her back in foal after that.” 

That foal was the placed mare Mills’N’Boon who Hepi raced. Southern Touch’s next foal was Gutsy Gussie who was also placed, followed by Super Strike. She also left another youngster by Super Easy but he didn’t make it to the races, and that was to be her last foal.

“I got the grandmother from David Benjamin,” Hepi said. “My family and his family go way back, and one day I took my daughter Jasmine out to the Karaka sales and went around to talk to Benji. I was busy talking to Benji and then we couldn’t find her! Anyway, we eventually found her in a box with a horse – J was only about 8 or 9 and that was Touche Amora, so I bought her, and from her I got Southern Touch (Becky) and she is the dam of Toby (Super Strike).”

Touche Amora won one race and went to stud and produced five live foals, the first being Stark Touch by Stark South who won nine races in Australia, followed by Embrace (Prized) who didn’t race but has left a couple of winners and Prized Touch (Prized) who Janet also raced out of the Collett Stable.

“Prized Touch won six races,” she said. “I had so much fun racing Oscar (Prized Touch) and he’s still alive and enjoying life at the ripe old age of 20. He raced in Dad’s colours as well.”

Touche Amora was a sister to Touch of Force who won five races including the Gr.2 AJC Villiers Stakes, and to Tantalise who was a stakes placed winner of four races.  Their dam Amora was a winner and a half-sister to the smart group one placed two-year-old winner Milton Magic, both being out of the stakes placed winning mare Milton Leigh.

From another former Fayette Park stallion in Germano, Hepi bred the 2009 Sydney Cup winner Ista Kareem who was out of another Touching Wood (USA) mare Princesses Touch. She doesn’t have any broodmares anymore, but she and Denny Baker are hoping to breed another Super Strike.

“I have been in touch with Gail Hughes who bred Touche Amora,” Baker said.

“She still has mares from that family and why wouldn’t we try and bred another one like Super Strike?” 

Melody Belle pleases in Te Rapa hit-out

Dual Horse of the Year Melody Belle and stablemate Te Akau Caliburn had an exhibition gallop at Te Rapa on Wednesday ahead of their feature targets at Trentham at the end of the month.

Galloping at intervals, Melody Belle worked boldly over 1000m under jockey Opie Bosson, in preparation for the Gr.1 Thorndon Mile (1600m), while Michael McNab put Te Akau Caliburn through his paces ahead of the Gr.3 Wellington Cup (3200m) at the same meeting.

Melody Belle finished runner-up in her 1200m trial at Matamata last week behind Karaka Million 3YO favourite Amarelinha and trainer Jamie Richards said her exhibition gallop on Wednesday will help improve her ahead of her Thorndon Mile test.

“Everything is going according to plan,” Richards said. “She had a decent blow after the trial last Tuesday and we’re taking the opportunity to get more work into her there today. 

“She was keen to go quicker, so I’m glad we’re taking the edge off her. We were treating it like a second trial and an opportunity to get her off the property, give her a spin around and tighten her up a little bit. 

“She’s probably five to 10 kilos above where I’d like her to be in terms of her racing weight but this will bring her on nicely and she looked to be doing some nice work.”

Richards is pleased with the way Melody Belle is progressing ahead of her resuming run at Trentham. 

“She’s going as good as we’ve ever had her,” he said. “She is sound and happy and as she’s got older she’s eaten better and continued to work well. She has lost a little of her spring, or sharpness, and looking for a bit further, hence why she’s kicking off at a mile.

“She was there to do a nice strong bit of work today, and Opie gave her a click down the shoulder and made her run through the line and that’s exactly what we wanted her to do.”

Richards said that following the Thorndon Mile, Melody Belle would target the Gr.1 Herbie Dyke Stakes (2000m) at Te Rapa.

“That’s the plan and we’re pretty mindful of travel to Wellington and making sure she is fit and forward enough to handle it, and then the travel home and two-week turnaround into Te Rapa,” he said. 

“So, it’s important she has a couple of extra decent gallops, a good strong trial, and hopefully she’s right where she needs to be.”

Purchased by Te Akau principal David Ellis for $57,500 as a yearling at Karaka, Melody Belle has won 17 of her 35 starts and $4 million in prizemoney.

Richards is also looking forward to contesting the Wellington Cup with Te Akau Caliburn.

“He ran well in the City of Auckland Cup without a lot of room over last couple of hundred yards,” he said.  

“He’s a horse that has had trouble with his soundness and, hence, why we can’t race him as much as we’d like to. But, he had a good strong exhibition gallop over a mile today, with give in the ground which suits him, and it will bring him on well. 

“If he relaxes and settles, I think he’ll be a really nice chance over two miles in the Wellington Cup.”