New Zealand news briefs

Team Pitman to tackle Trentham feature

Team Pitman have many fond memories of Trentham racecourse and they are hoping that will continue on Saturday when Miss Tycoon Rose tackles the Gr.1 Rydges Wellington Captain Cook Stakes (1600m).

“We have won three Group Ones there and it is track that is pretty special to us,” said Matthew Pitman, who trains in partnership with his father Michael. 

“Growing up it was always my favourite track to go to. Our family has had a lot of success there and hopefully it can continue.”

The Pitmans have been pleased with Miss Tycoon Rose ahead of Saturday’s mile feature, with the Group One performer set to travel north from their Riccarton base on Thursday.

“We are really happy with her. She had a gallop on the course proper on Saturday morning here at Riccarton and worked really well,” Pitman said.

“She is going to have her final gallop on Wednesday on the course proper before travelling up Thursday morning.”

The four-year-old mare heads into Saturday off the back of her fourth placing in the Gr.2 Coupland’s Bakeries Mile (1600m) at Riccarton earlier this month and her trainers have been pleased with the way she has come through the run.

“In the Coupland’s they walked around and sprinted home and we were midfield on the fence,” Pitman said. 

“I think she ran the fastest last 200m and 400m. Although we expected her to go close to winning that day, we were happy with her run under the circumstances.

“Our confidence hasn’t been knocked at all and hopefully she is up to that class once again on Saturday.”

The Pitmans have plenty of time for the daughter of Written Tycoon who has a number of elite-level targets ahead of her this summer.

“We think she is top draw,” Pitman said. “She knows what she is there to do and she loves doing it. She is ultra-competitive, and she has got that something extra that you look for.

“There is so much for her this season. There is the Thorndon (Gr.1, 1600m), the Group One mile at Otaki, and then some fillies and mares Group Ones later in the season.

“But we will take each race as it comes and hopefully she can pick up a nice prize or two.”

Pitman is keeping a close eye on the weather forecast before deciding whether Miss Tycoon Rose will be joined by any of her stablemates on the trip north to Wellington later this week.

“Depending on what the track is like, possibly Okay Pal will go up for the Open Sprint,” he said. “We might take Ohio Showgirl up if it is a wetter track. We will assess that in the coming days.”

Pitman was fresh off returning from his trip to Cromwell’s two-day meeting over the weekend and he was pleased with the success the stable had at the picturesque Central Otago venue.

Da Vinci Girl broke through for her maiden victory in the Alexandra New World (2030m) on Friday, while Lennon did the same when dead-heating with Stop Yelling in the Otago Farm Machinery (1400m) on Sunday.

“It was good to see a couple of our longtime maidens finally pick up a prize,” Pitman said.

“Da Vinci Girl raced in the (NZ 1000) Guineas (Gr.1, 1600m) last year and we thought she might have been up for an Oaks prep, but it came around too soon for her.

“She has matured with age and showed what she can do on the first day and then we picked up another winner on the second day.”

Despite the absence of the usual boisterous crowd as a result of COVID-19 restrictions, Pitman enjoyed the weekend away and said those type of meetings are the lifeblood of the industry.

“It is a shame that the usual crowd wasn’t there, but the atmosphere was good nonetheless,” he said.

“It is one of those great meetings where people go along and stay for the weekend. It is one of those meetings that brings racing closer together.” 

Highly-rated Justaskme in search of Captain Cook easing

Saturday’s Gr.1 Rydges Wellington Captain Cook Stakes (1600m) could be a swansong to New Zealand racing, at least for a while, for class Taranaki gelding Justaskme.

The six-year-old has been one of the best wet-weather gallopers in the past 12 months and showed his adeptness in the conditions with a facile five-length victory in the Gr.2 Tauranga Stakes (1600m) at Tauranga on November 13.

With rain forecast for Trentham this week, Justaskme will clearly be in the reckoning for the weight-for-age Captain Cook Stakes if the track has any give in it.

But trainer Allan Sharrock said Justaskme may head to an Australian stable in the very near future because he was becoming difficult to place with his 101 rating, which went up five points after his Tauranga victory.

It came three weeks after finishing a length-and-three-quarters second in the Gr.3 Thompson Handicap (1600m) to Cheaperthandivorce, while conceding her 7kg. At weight-for-age Justaskme would only have conceded her 2.5kg.

“It’s a little bit frustrating at his current rating because he can only race at weight-for-age because he’s weighted out of everything else,” said Sharrock, who owns Justaskme along with his brother Bruce and former rugby league star Tony Kemp.

“He might find his way over to Australia to another trainer in autumn. It becomes too hard to find races for them.

“Other than Hastings next spring, there aren’t many options at weight-for-age for a horse that wants an off track.”

Sharrock said he was encouraged by Australia in part by the success of former New Zealand mare Polly Grey, who won the Listed ATC Cup (2000m) at Rosehill on Saturday. She has earned more than A$500,000 since joining the Chris Waller stable last year, having also won the Gr.3 Epona Stakes (1900m), Listed Gosford Cup (2100m) and Listed Mayors Cup (2000m) this year.

If Justaskme goes well in the Captain Cook Stakes he may be set for the Gr.1 Zabeel Classic (2000m) on Boxing Day, or else he will be spelled. A decision will be made at that stage whether he will head to Australia or not.

Justaskme will be Sharrock’s only runner at Trentham on Saturday, with cult horse Tavi Mac being held back for the Gr.2 Manawatu Challenge Stakes (1400m) at Awapuni on December 18.

Tavi Mac was one of the best horses in New Zealand last spring but apart from a victory in the Gr.3 Sweynesse Stakes (1215m) at Rotorua in October, he has been well short of that form this year.

“I found some issues in his back, so hopefully we’ve rectified that. He certainly wasn’t the same horse this spring,” Sharrock said.

Tavi Mac’s half-sister Darci La Bella has also shown very good form, winning four of her six starts. She is likely to race in an open sprint at Awapuni on December 11.

Meanwhile, two of Sharrock’s staying prospects, Waisake and Our Hail Mary, have both raced twice. They are being set for the major cup races in late summer.

“Our Hail Mary is heading towards a tilt at either the Auckland or Wellington Cup, while Waisake is getting ready for the Wellington Cup and possibly Sydney or Auckland,” he said.

“They are both doing well, and Our Hail Mary ran really well the other day.”

Sharrock’s best three-year-old prospect is Shamus, who has won both his starts. 

“He’s a nice horse and we are setting him for the Levin Classic (Gr.1, 1600m),” 

Prestige Cup hopes for emerging stayer

Trainer Paul Harris is eyeing major staying targets this season with his promising mare Wannabe ‘N’ Paris and longer-term would dearly love to travel further afield to Australia.

The Rangiora-based horseman prepared the daughter of Reliable Man to claim top honours in Sunday’s Cromwell Cup (2030m) and confirm plans for a northern campaign.

“She deserved that, she’s been a model of consistency and punched way above her weight in some really nice races,” Harris said.

“It was a very, very good ride and I said to Kavish (Chowdhoory) I’ve put the blinkers on and she may dwell at the start so, if she does, just ride her conservatively and it worked out beautifully.”

Harris has now set his sights on the Gr.3 NZ Campus Of Innovation & Sport Wellington Cup (3200m) at Trentham on January 29.

“The Wellington Cup will be the main aim now and I’m not ruling out a crack at the Auckland Cup (Gr.2, 3200m) as well,” he said.

In 2003, Harris campaigned his Gr.1 New Zealand 2000 Guineas (1600m) Hustler and Gr.3 New Zealand Cup (3200m) winner Mike across the Tasman with mixed results and has hopes Wannabe ‘N’ Paris can make her mark there in the future.

“We went to Queensland with them and unfortunately Mike broke down before the Brisbane Cup (then Gr.1, 3200m). Everyone has dreams and I’ve said to the owners this is the first horse since I took Mike and Hustler to Australia that I believe can end up there as well,” he said.

“If you reach for the stars and you come up short you are still a few miles in front of most people so why not have a dream of the Melbourne Cup (Gr.1, 3200m) next year.

“It may become a reality and I do think she is a very, very high-class stayer and whatever she’s done, she will be a better horse in 12 months.”

Cuneen opens winning training account

Racha Cuneen has added another string to his racing bow with the Group One-winning jockey posting his maiden success as a trainer.

The Riccarton-based horseman prepared Stop Yelling to dead-heat for first in Sunday’s Otago Farm Machinery Maiden (1400m) at Cromwell and, for good measure, was also in the saddle.

“I’ve got four in work and it’s not easy, but I really enjoy it. It gives more insight into the horses and it was a good feeling to get my first winner,” he said.

Cuneen enjoyed a successful first riding stint in New Zealand with Group One wins in the 2016-17 season aboard La Diosa in the New Zealand 1000 Guineas (1600m) at Riccarton and Signify in the Telegraph (1200m) at Trentham.

He moved to Victoria in early 2018 to freelance out of Cranbourne before returning home earlier this year for what was meant to be a fleeting visit.

“I came back to New Zealand to renew my passport and driver’s licence and had my flights booked to go back,” Cuneen said. 

“They then closed the border and went into lockdown so I stayed here. I’m happy doing what I’m doing at the moment.

“Hopefully, I’ll get a few more nice horses to train and continue riding. I enjoy both sides of it.”

Stop Yelling was his fifth race day representative and while he expected a good showing from the son of Proisir, victory came as a pleasant surprise.

“I wouldn’t say I was that confident, but he had been working okay. The judge said it was a dead-heat so it was better than running second,” he said.

Powerful win from Megalomaniac

After two photo finishes in the first two races at Cromwell on Sunday, Megalomaniac gave the judge a breather with a dominant three-and-a-quarter length win in the Wingatui Function Centre (1400m).

Under a positive ride from Kozzi Asano, Megalomaniac found the front from the widest barrier (13), he was then able to dictate the tempo and never looked in doubt putting on a show for the large crowd in attendance.

“Kozzi rode him super,” trainer Andrew Carston said of his stable apprentice who has been on loan to Tony Pike in the North Island. 

“He had a good day and picked up a couple of winners. It was great to have him down here and to get one for us."

Carston wasn’t surprised to see the four-year-old gelding, who came into the meeting off a second placing last start pick up his maiden win. 

“He’s a nice horse and he nearly won during Cup Week so I was expecting a good run. He’d been knocking on the door for a while,” he said. 

Megalomaniac is raced by Carston along with Jeff and Tanya McCall and the Pussy Galore Syndicate and he has now won one and placed in four of 12 starts. 

“I do think he’s a horse that will win more than one and he seems to be going the right way,” Carston said. 

“He’ll probably run again at Ashburton in a couple of weeks’ time, depending on how he comes through the run and trip away but there’s plenty of racing coming up over the holidays so we can pick and choose.”

Megalomaniac is by South Canterbury-based Willow Glen Stud’s sire Pure Champion, who had two winners on the day with Tyler Eight also successful.