Llanacord wins nail-biting Lowland
The Stephen Nickalls-trained Llanacord landed the Gr.2 Little Avondale Stud Lowland Stakes (2100m) at Hastings on Wednesday to provide the Rangiotu trainer, who part-owns the three-year-old filly, with his biggest moment in racing.
The daughter of Contributer had run out a dominant eight-length winner in maiden grade over 2040m at Whanganui last month and handled the step-up to Group company as she narrowly withstood the late challenge of runner-up Charms Star by a nose in a brave performance.
Ridden by Leah Hemi, Llanacord enjoyed a nice run three back on the fence before being presented at the top of the straight and proved too tough in the run home, setting up a tilt at the Gr.1 Al Basti Equiworld Dubai New Zealand Oaks (2400m) at Trentham on March 20.
“It feels amazing. It’s just an incredible feeling,” Nickalls, best-known for training jumpers, said after claiming his first flat stakes success.
“We ran second in a Wellington Steeplechase and that was a special day, but this is pretty cool.
“I know we are in COVID times and it is a very different world, but it didn’t dampen the enthusiasm at all.
“I have got to say a big thank you to Darryl Bradley who galloped her on Monday for me and said ‘this filly has just improved out of sight’.
“We were happy with her and she was fit and healthy. If she was good enough, she was in the right condition, and she certainly proved she was good enough.”
Llanacord, who became the first Group winner for her Mapperley Stud-based sire Contributer, is now a $14 chance in the New Zealand Oaks in a market headed by Amarelinha ($1.70) and Nickalls believes the filly will stay the 2400m despite her narrow victory.
“Leah came back in and said ‘we’ve got an Oaks filly’,” he said.
“I’ve got no fears of her going the 2400m. Right the way through she has given us the feel of the further she goes, the better she will go.
“She hit the lead very early today, she has done what she had to do and was brave right to the line. We will go home and wrap her in cotton wool and pray for the best.”
Nickalls owns the filly in conjunction with his mother and stepfather, Dianne and Kevin Hopson. The latter bought her for $15,000 at Book 2 of the New Zealand Bloodstock National Yearling Sale in 2019 and sent her to be prepared by Glynn Brick in Cambridge.
However, that came to a tragic end when Brick died in a car crash near Cambridge in March last year.
“Glynn had trained Kevin’s horses for 10 years, and the intention was always that he would train this filly,” Nickalls said.
“When that happened my stepfather called and asked if I could take her and we were only too happy to.
“They were very tragic circumstances. To be able to do something with her is something, and if she can even run in the Oaks it will have great sentimental value for all of us.
“We still have a lot to do with the family and there is a memorial for Glynn in a couple of weeks, so she will be running for him in the Oaks, that’s for sure.”
Nickalls and his wife Laura Knight train about 10 horses between them, while Knight, daughter of former All Black Gary Knight, also has showjumpers.
“We both like the jumpers. We tend to look for horses that will either be stayers on the flat, or if they’re too slow for that, become jumpers.”
The popular horseman said the win was special given the family involvement in the horse.
“She is a proper family horse. Laura is heavily involved and our little five-year-old daughter Mya leads her in from the paddock each day,” Nickalls said.
“The stables are at the house and we do all the work ourselves and we can have Mya involved and the broader family involved, and to me that is the most important thing.
“Kevin has always wanted a top filly. His parents raced a good filly called Impasada with the O’Sullivans many moons ago and he has always been adamant he wants a good filly. She’s a Group Two winner now and we will do everything in our power to get her to the Oaks in a few weeks.”
Llancord, picture Race Images
On Display ruled out of Derby
The Danny Walker-trained On Display did not accept for Sunday’s Gr.1 Vodafone New Zealand Derby (2400m) on Wednesday after a foot issue was discovered on Tuesday night.
Placed in both the Gr.2 Auckland Guineas (1600m) and Gr.2 Avondale Guineas (2100m) On Display had been a late nomination for the Derby on Tuesday.
“Last night he was a little bit off in a foot. We bathed it and thought it might have been an errant nail but this morning he was worse,” Walker said.
“We have x-rayed and he has basically got a bruised foot.
“It is a deep-seated bruise, and it is going to take three or four days bathing, so I decided to pull the pin now. You have got to be 100 percent in a Derby.
“It is the way it goes with horses.”
A field of 14 has accepted for the $1 million feature, where Rocket Spade ($3.60) and Montre Moi ($3.80) head the market.
Quality kiwi-breds sold to Hong Kong
Dual Group Three winner Crosshaven has been sold to Hong Kong interests after his connections accepted an offer that was too good to refuse.
Trained in Australia by Tom Dabernig and Ben Hayes, the three-year-old gelding will join the stable of David Hayes.
The son of Smart Missile leaves Australia with a record of five wins from nine starts and a third-placing in last month’s Gr.1 CF Orr Stakes (1400m).
Cosshaven was bred by Daniel and Elias Nakhle, who remained in the ownership group after he was sold as a yearling through Haunui Farm’s 2019 New Zealand Bloodstock Book 1 draft.
Meanwhile, Zebrowski, runner-up in last year’s Gr.1 Australian Derby (2400m), is also destined for Hong Kong after leaving the stable of Team Hawkes.
The four-year-old, who was last seen finishing fifth in the Gr.3 Bendigo Cup (2400m) joins the yard of Casper Fownes after recording two wins from 12 starts in Australia.
Zebrowski was bred by Windsor Park Stud who remained in the original ownership group of the son of Savabeel.
Montre Moi ready to capitalise in Derby
Otaki trainer Johno Benner believes it's far from a vintage running of this year's Gr.1 Vodafone New Zealand Derby (2400m), but he's hardly complaining.
Benner and his partner Hollie Wynyard will produce two-win Showcasing gelding Montre Moi in Sunday's Classic, which will either be run at Ellerslie if the Government drops Auckland from its current level three lockdown, or Hastings if it doesn't.
"It's pretty even and probably down on quality on previous years the way it's worked out but we're not complaining. It gives us a really good chance in the race," Benner said.
TAB bookmakers have Montre Moi as a $3.80 second favourite for the Derby behind the Lance O'Sullivan and Andrew Scott-trained Gr.2 Avondale Guineas (2100m) winner Rocket Spade at $3.60.
Montre Moi bypassed the Avondale Guineas, having finished third in the $1 million Karaka Million 3YO Classic (1600m) at Ellerslie and fifth in the Gr.2 Waikato Guineas (2000m) at Te Rapa as his last two lead-up races.
He got back in both those races but with the addition of a barrier blanket and a favourable barrier seven draw, Benner was open to having Montre Moi handier in the run in the Derby.
"I wanted to draw six or seven, to get seven that was perfect. It gives us options. He does tend to rock around and muck around a bit in the barriers so we've added a barrier blanket and hopefully he can jump away a little cleaner," Benner said.
"As we saw in the Waikato Guineas, he was just a touch tardy and Nabba (jockey Michael McNab) didn't want to bustle him too much obviously looking towards a Derby. He got too far back but he hit the line well and heading to the Derby, it was a very good run.
"In the Karaka Classic, it was a very strong three-year-old race and it looked like everyone was running for third behind Amarelinha and Aegon on paper. He ran a really good race and we were happy.
"We're pretty confident he'll see the 2400m out. He's stoutly-bred on the dam side. There's staying blood all the way through there. Everything he does at home, he's always running through the line. We're always asking him to stop. He's very tough."
Wanganui jockey Lisa Allpress takes the ride on Sunday, having been in the saddle for both Montre Moi's wins as she attempts to become the first female rider to win the Derby.
It's also been 10 years since a horse trained south of Taupo has won the Derby but Benner is optimistic he has the horse to remedy that drought.
"We've always been a bit more into the two-year-olds but we'd love to win a Derby. It would be great on the resume for Hollie and I, and we think we've got the horse to do it," Benner said.
"He's a very clean-winded horse. We're pretty happy with where we stand. Since Te Rapa, he's had three very good gallops on the course proper at home and he seems to be going really well.
"He hasn't missed a beat and any rain won't worry him. We're pretty confident he'll do the job."
Benner said the uncertainty over the Derby venue was of little concern to him.
"We've planned on going to Auckland and it's just a day later so there's no real difference," he said.
"If they go to Hastings, things go through your mind like, will it play to favour horses on pace? How will it come through today's meeting? It's not a big run into the first corner... But for us, three hours travel is better than eight to Auckland. It won't worry us either way."
Meanwhile, Benner and Wynyard will produce promising two-year-old Titled in the HR Jones & Co 2yo (1200m) at Awapuni on Saturday as he builds towards the Gr.1 Courtesy Ford Manawatu Sires' Produce Stakes (1400m) at the same course on April 3.
"1000m was always going to be too short for the horse last start. The goal has always been the Manawatu Sires' and you can't just get them out of their box and go and win the Manawatu Sires'. Up to six furlongs this weekend on fresh legs, we're hoping we see the best of him."
Benner was also delighted with Gr.1 Levin Classic (1600m) winner Bonham's trial second placing at Foxton on Tuesday as she prepared for the Gr.2 Fusion Electrical Wellington Guineas (1400m) at Trentham on March 20.
"She trialled superbly yesterday. Her action was great and she ran really well so we're really happy with her," Benner said.
Hold The Press, the stable's 20th winner for the season from just 65 starters at Otaki last Saturday, will also head to the Wellington Guineas, a race the stable has won previously with Vespa in 2015, Scott Base in 2018 and Gold Bracelet last year.
Richards holds strong hand on Derby Day
The New Zealand Derby meeting could be held at either Hastings or Ellerslie on Sunday, but Jamie Richards is hoping for the latter.
The man at the helm of the Te Akau juggernaut will have a number of leading contenders at the meeting, many of whom favour the Auckland track.
“It would be great to have it at Ellerslie. The next couple of days are quite vital in terms of how many cases are reported,” he said.
“It is out of our control and we have just got to wait and see what happens.”
Lightly-raced mare Entriviere will resume in the Gr.3 Haunui Farm King’s Plate (1200m) after her last start victory in the Gr.3 Concorde Handicap (1200m) at Ellerslie on January 23.
The daughter of Tavistock had a freshen-up before trialling at Pukekohe last week, pleasing her trainer ahead of Sunday.
“We have continued to space her runs a little bit and have kept her nice and fresh,” Richards said.
“She had a week in the paddock after Karaka Million night, had a week on the water walker, has been back and had a trial and has done some nice work.
“I thought the trial was very sharp. She probably trialled the best of our four in that heat. It was always going to be hard to make ground from the back, but I thought she trialled really well.
“She heads into the race in good shape and with a nice weight.”
Entriviere has had just the five starts, for a win and placing, and Richards said they have taken a patient approach with the promising four-year-old.
“She is a mare who has just needed a bit of time,” he said. “By Tavistock, some of them can be a little bit slow to strengthen. We don’t mind waiting if they have shown ability and that is certainly the case with her.
“She is a mare that we do hold in very high regard.”
Sunday could be her final hit-out of the season, with Richards and Te Akau principal David Ellis eyeing loftier targets with her next term.
“We are just taking it one run at a time,” Richards said. “She has got a really big season in front of her next year, so whether she just has this run and then goes out I am not entirely sure.”
Entriviere will be joined in the King’s Plate by stablemate Festivity, who also boasts a strong record, having won five of her seven starts.
The I Am Invincible mare finished fifth behind Entriviere in the Concorde Handicap before she won over 1200m at Te Rapa last month.
“She was a little unlucky at Ellerslie two starts back,” Richards said. “She was a bit erratic that day and just didn’t get the gaps when she needed them.
“We took her back to Te Rapa, dropped her in grade and she had to carry a bit of weight (60.5kg), but she relaxed beautifully and did everything lovely, and I think she has come on again from that run.
“She has done some nice work and seems to be in good shape. They are a couple of nice mares to have in a race like that.”
In the following race, Richards is looking forward to lining up star filly Amarelinha in the Gr.3 McKee Family Sunline Vase (2100m).
It is set to be her final hit-out before the Gr.1 Al Basti Equiworld Dubai New Zealand Oaks (2400m) at Trentham later this month, so Richards has his fingers crossed the meeting goes ahead.
“It is quite important for her that the races do go ahead because this is her final run before the Oaks,” he said.
“She is in good shape, the three weeks turnaround suits her, she has done some nice work, and she looks fantastic.”
Amarelinha takes an impeccable record into Sunday, having won three of her five starts, including the Gr.2 Eight Carat Classic (1600m) and Gr.2 Fillies Classic (2000m) at Te Rapa last start.
“She is a filly who is putting together a very good record,” Richards said. “I am looking forward to seeing how she goes. She obviously loves Ellerslie and we would like the racing to go ahead there for her.”
Richards will also have a contender in the day’s feature, the Gr.1 Vodafone New Zealand Derby (2400m), in the form of Perfect Scenario.
The Iffraaj gelding placed in the Gr.2 Waikato Guineas (2000m) last month, which has given Richards a boost of confidence heading into the $1 million Classic.
“I think he is going well enough,” he said. “He ran well at Te Rapa and three weeks into the Derby is nice timing for him. We have just spaced his races a little bit to try and look after him. He probably lacks a little bit of physical maturity.
“He is getting to the end of a big season. It is a million-dollar race at a mile and a half, you never know how these three-year-olds handle it until they actually race over that distance.
“I was really pleased with how he worked on Tuesday morning with Rocket Spade. He goes into the race as good as we can have him. He is a genuine each way chance.”
Earlier on the card, Richards will have a three-pronged attack in the Listed Fasttrack Mufhasa Stakes (1300m), led by last start Group Three winner Need I Say More.
“He is in good shape and he trialled at Pukekohe last week,” Richards said. “He doesn’t do much at the trials until raceday, he is a laid-back customer. I thought he trialled well enough.”
Richards said he also has a lot of time for fellow Mufhasa Stakes contenders Cornflower Blue and Holyhead.
“Cornflower Blue is a filly we hold in very high regard,” he said. “She is Group One-placed, she has had a bit of time and she trialled well the other day.
“Any rain around on Sunday will be no harm for her at all.”