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Trainers hoping good times continue to roll

Cambridge trainers Roger James and Robert Wellwood are well on their way toward their most successful season since forming a training partnership at the beginning of the 2018-19 term.

Their top tally to date was 30 winners in that initial season and they are currently sitting on 20 with a best ever mark of six black-type winners and realistic chances of adding to their stakes haul at Trentham on Saturday.

“Hopefully, that’s the case and we have had a really good season and have got some nice horses, all things being equal I think we have a lot to look forward to,” James said.

“It’s about being patient and having good owners who are prepared to be patient.”

On Saturday, the high-class stablemates Concert Hall and Two Illicit will go head-to-head in the Gr.1 Harcourts Thorndon Mile (1600m) and both have already enjoyed lucrative campaigns.

Last year’s Gr.1 Zabeel Classic (2000m) winner Concert Hall triumphed in the Gr.2 Cal Isuzu Stakes (1600m) and at her most recent appearance claimed the Gr.3 City of Auckland Cup (2400m) at Ellerslie on New Year’s Day.

On that occasion, she gave 4.5kg to runner-up and stablemate Cheaperthandivorce, herself a major success story this preparation with Group Three wins in the Thompson Handicap (1600m) and Waikato Cup (2400m).

Meanwhile, Two Illicit will be chasing further top-flight success having landed the Gr.1 Captain Cook Stakes (1600m) on the course before Christmas and last time out she finished an unlucky third in the Gr.1 Zabeel Classic (2000m).

When posed the inevitable question about their chances at Trentham, James leaned slightly toward the Trelawney Stud-bred and raced Two Illicit.

“I am really happy with both of them and they got through a nice piece of work on Tuesday morning and they don’t need any more really. At a mile, I would probably go slightly toward Two Illicit and once it gets further than that it becomes very even,” he said.

Safely through the weekend, the mares may clash again in the Gr.1 Herbie Dyke Stakes (2000m) at Te Rapa on February 12.

“It’s always race by race, but we have plans for them. As I say, they have to come through each race well enough to look forward,” James said. “The Herbie Dyke is on the radar for both of them.”

Concert Hall is raced by breeder Joan Egan, whose colours will also be carried by the Savabeel mare’s half-sister Avalene in the Gr.2 New Zealand Bloodstock Desert Gold Stakes (1600m).

The daughter of Vadamos was a debut winner at Te Aroha and a return trip there last time out resulted in a third placing against older opposition with an unplaced run in the Gr.3 Eulogy Stakes (1600m) at Awapuni in between times.

“The bottom line is that she is inexperienced and I’d like her to get in among the field and have something to chase on Saturday,” James said. “It is a perfect track to do that and she goes in having worked very well.”

Cunneen has her sights set on feature race spoils

Meg Cunneen has developed a taste for black-type racing less than a month since the first stakes win of her fledgling training career. 

The Riccarton trainer produced William Wallace to win last month's Listed Timaru Cup (1600m), her first black-type win bringing up just her third training success.

On Saturday, Cunneen will produce Gr.2 Coupland's Bakeries Mile (1600m) runner-up Seriously in the Listed Speight's Timaru Stakes (1600m) at Riccarton, a possible precursor to the Gr.3 White Robe Lodge Stakes (1600m) at Wingatui a week later.

Cunneen also has William Wallace earmarked for the White Robe Lodge Stakes, while Bully Boy is on track for the Listed Dunedin Gold Cup (2400m) the same day and Mamma Sans will head north next week for a shot at the Listed Wairarapa Thoroughbred Breeders' Stakes (1600m) at Tauherenikau on February 7.

"It's crazy how quickly everything has happened but chiefly through the Ridley family, my family and the Bull family, I'm privileged to have really good support and hopefully I can carry on getting results for them," said Cunneen, who has a team of seven in work.

Seriously emerged as a flagbearer with his gallant frontrunning performance to nearly grab an upset win in the Coupland's Mile for jockey Chris Johnson, who again rides in the Timaru Stakes. 

The O'Reilly six-year-old gelding had a good hit out between races in an exhibition gallop with William Wallace at Riccarton last week, delighting Cunneen with his effort.

"Chris Johnson rode him in the exhibition gallop but Brett Murray rides him in a lot of his work and he said since he's had the gallop he's really switched on and he's forward going into Saturday," she said.

"The race came up a bit stronger than I thought it would with the White Robe the next weekend but it will be a really interesting race because there are a lot of good formlines.

"We'll try and get across. If he's not in front, it's no big deal so long as he's settling well which he usually does in the open."

A winner of three of his 20 starts, Seriously began his career with Neill Ridley and briefly switched to Riccarton trainer Terri Rae when Ridley died before joining Cunneen.

She had been considering Seriously for a trip north for this weekend's Gr.1 Harcourts Thorndon Mile at Trentham but after he finished second over 1400m at Cromwell in late November she decided to change tack and focus on late-summer southern targets.

"He lightened off after the Cromwell trip so we opted to put him out for three weeks," Cunneen said.

"He's been back now just over a month and we're really happy with him. He looks well and he should be a good chance despite the draw but there will be further improvement to come.

"On the White Robe Lodge Stakes, he's got to pull up well but if he does, that's where we'll be heading."

Cunneen will also produce Bully Boy in the Kam Transport Marlborough Cup (2000m), reporting the Rock 'n' Pop seven-year-old had thrived since his Greymouth Cup (2000m) win and second placing in the Kumara Gold Nuggets (1810m) earlier this month.

"He went super both days on the coast,” she said. “If he races well on Saturday and pulls up well, he's likely to head towards the Dunedin Gold Cup. If he ran in the first three, that would give us a good lead in for the Cup down there.

"He's settled into the stable really well. He just goes about his business. He's not the flashiest trackworker but he's fit and well and he's got a good record at Riccarton so he should be a good chance."

Australia beckons the Brownes

Australian punters are set to become better acquainted with trainers David and Emma-Lee Browne as they get set to move across the Tasman from their Cambridge base.

The husband-and-wife team secured plenty of success in Victoria in the spring, headlined by their uniquely named duo of Elephant and Rhinoceros.

Elephant won two of his five starts in Australia, including the Gr.3 Sandown Stakes (1500m), and placed in the Gr.2 Feehan Stakes (1600m) and Gr.2 Crystal Mile (1600m). 

Rhinoceros also claimed plenty of success, winning two of his three starts.

The couple have entertained the idea of moving to Victoria for several years, but Emma-Lee Browne said that spring campaign, overseen by David, was the catalyst for their move to Cranbourne where they have secured the lease of 40 boxes.

“It has been something that we have been thinking about over the last few years. We were just waiting for the right time,” Emma-Lee Browne said.

“I had always done the trips (to Melbourne) and David needed to have a look and see what he thought as well. As it turned out he was pretty keen.”

David is once again set to head to Melbourne to oversee Elephant’s preparation geared towards the A$5 million All-Star Mile (1600m), but this time he won’t return to New Zealand.

“Once David goes, he goes, I don’t think he is keen to go back into MIQ anytime soon,” Browne said.

The couple are familiar with Cranbourne and Browne said it will be ideal for their training style.

“We will have 40 stables and we can ride to the track from there,” she said. 

“The distance from the track is very similar to what we have here to work our horses and the fact we have spent a lot of time in Cranbourne over the past few years, we know the track quite well and it suits the way we train them. 

“We thought that was the best place to go along with the fact that with Caulfield now closed to training, it seems like the place you want to be.”

Browne said an added bonus is that she will be reunited with close friend Natalie Young, who trains in partnership with Trent Busuttin at Cranbourne. 

“It is good to catch up with our friends and it always makes it easier moving somewhere knowing that you have a few mates around, especially with Natalie being over there. I have missed her while she has been over there,” Browne said.

“Up until COVID we made sure to keep in touch and travelled backwards and forwards. It will be really good having a bit of support from them.”

Browne said their client base has been very supportive and are planning on supporting the couple in Australia.

“We are going to sit around 30 by the end of March. David will take a few over and I will just keep sending them over as they get ready,” she said.

“Our owners here have been very supportive and they are sending their horses over, so that makes it easier as well.”

While David will head to Australia next month, Emma-Lee and their three daughters won’t make the move until April.

“It gives us a bit of time to get everything sorted, then we are not all rushing to be leaving by the middle of February,” Browne said.

Meanwhile, Browne has been pleased with the progress of Elephant and she is looking forward to seeing him trial at Ellerslie on Friday. 

“He is going great,” she said. “We are throwing up the idea of whether we run him at Te Rapa or fly him over and race at Flemington on the middle weekend (19th of February).

“We are trying to ramp up our campaign to get him into the All-Star Mile. We have had a lot of support so far, we have just got to keep it going.” 

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