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Mark Twain out to strengthen trainers’ carnival claims

By Richard Edmunds, LOVERACING.NZ News Desk

Roger James and Robert Wellwood already have the $1.40 favourite for the Gr.1 Trackside New Zealand Derby (2400m), and a trip to Otaki this weekend could earn them an even greater share of the spotlight during the upcoming Ellerslie carnival.

James and Wellwood’s impressive last-start winner Mark Twain will run in Saturday’s $50,000 New World Otaki New Zealand St Leger Trial (2300m), which he will use as a lead-up to the $500,000 Gr.2 Barfoot & Thompson Auckland Cup (3200m) on March 9.

Mark Twain showed real ability as a three-year-old last season, winning twice before flashing home for fourth in Sharp ‘N’ Smart’s New Zealand Derby at Te Rapa. The son of Shocking finished midfield in the Gr.1 Australian Derby (2400m) on a heavy Randwick track at the beginning of April, then was given a long break by James and Wellwood.

After resuming with a fourth over 1400m on November 30 and then a third over 2040m on January 11, Mark Twain took a big step forward with a brilliant finishing burst from well off the pace to win a 2100m Rating 75 at Te Rapa on February 10.

The TAB now rates Mark Twain a $7 chance for the Auckland Cup, sharing second favouritism with his stablemate Dionysus. The $5 favourite is last weekend’s Gr.2 Avondale Cup (2400m) winner Asterix.

Wellwood reported on Friday that Kingsclere Stables has been pleased with Mark Twain’s progress through the early stages of his four-year-old campaign.

“He’s still learning how to do things in the right fashion, but if he gets a bit of luck and the gaps appear at the right times, he does possess a very good turn of foot,” he said. “He showed that at Te Rapa and won quite impressively.

“We’ve been really happy with him since that race. He’s in grand order and is working well.”

James and Wellwood entered Mark Twain for three different races this weekend, including the Listed Matamata Veterinary Services Equine Kaimai Stakes (2000m) at Matamata, but picked out the St Leger Trial as the best Auckland Cup lead-up.

“We nominated him in a few different races, just trying to work out what might suit him best leading into the Auckland Cup in a couple of weeks’ time,” Wellwood said. “There were a couple of reasons why we ended up opting for this race. One is that it’s probably the most suitable distance at 2300m, and another factor is the smaller field. He drew wide in that big field at Matamata and would have had to get a long way back. This race just looked like the most suitable step for him as we work towards an Auckland Cup.”

Mark Twain will be joined at Otaki by his stablemate Achieve, who will line up in the Harcourts Otaki Handicap (2200m).

The daughter of Pierro placed in the Gr.2 David & Karyn Ellis Fillies’ Classic (2000m), Gr.3 Eulogy Stakes (1600m) and Gr.3 Sunline Vase (2100m) as a three-year-old. She struggled for consistency in her four-year-old campaign last season, but has shown promise with two placings from her three starts so far in this new preparation.

“We’ve been really happy with her,” Wellwood said. “She’s an honest mare who we think will be suited by the 2200m on Saturday. We’re hoping she’s not far away from putting her hoof in the till.”

Meanwhile, Wellwood has mixed feelings leading into next Saturday’s New Zealand Derby at Ellerslie. The stable’s star filly Orchestral has towered over the prestigious classic since her dominant performance in the Gr.2 Avondale Guineas (2100m) last weekend.

“It’s a very exciting position to be in, although it’s a bit nerve-racking as well,” he said. “But she just keeps getting better and better as we go along, and last weekend was quite a special performance to watch.

“At this stage we’re really happy with how her Derby build-up has gone. She’ll probably gallop in the morning, and then we may not have to do much more with her through the week leading into the race.” 

Te Akau aiming to capture local juvenile spoils

By Jess de Lautour, LOVERACING.NZ News Desk

This Saturday’s juvenile features at Matamata are set to paint a clearer picture for upcoming Group One targets, and Te Akau Racing co-trainer Sam Bergerson is hoping for good showings from his high-class trio.

Bergerson, who trains in partnership with Mark Walker, will prepare Move To Strike and Unbridled Joy in the Gr.3 Fairview Matamata Slipper (1200m), while unbeaten filly Captured By Love will attempt a fourth-straight victory in the Gr.2 J Swap Contractors Ltd Matamata Breeders’ Stakes (1200m).

A son of I Am Invincible, Move To Strike justified his scorching $1.20 favouritism on debut in December, but succumbed to talented stablemate Bellatrix Star at a similar quote in the Gr.2 SkyCity Eclipse Stakes (1200m) on New Year’s Day.

“He was a very short-priced favourite that day and got rolled, but Bellatrix Star and Velocious were right there in the blanket finish, so it is very good form,” Bergerson said.

“He’s just such a laid-back customer at home, we would’ve loved to get a trial into him between then and Saturday, but unfortunately with how the schedule has worked out, getting a grass trial didn’t work out.

“He had an exhibition gallop at Matamata mid-week last week instead, and his work was super with an older horse. Opie (Bosson, jockey) rode him that day, and was pleased with him.

“The blinkers go on, and we hope this will sharpen him up a bit. He’s a colt we’ve always had a lot of time for.”

Punters have remained faithful to Move To Strike, backing him into $1.80 favouritism, while Bergerson is not discounting the chances of stablemate Unbridled Joy, who currently sits as the $7 equal third-favourite with Sam Weatherley engaged to ride.

Unbridled Joy finished only behind fellow Te Akau runner When Stars Align on debut, and soon found the winner’s circle at his next attempt, with little favours in the running.

“He’s certainly gone the right way since his win, he found a lot of trouble that day and still managed to get himself out of it and find the line really well,” Bergerson said.

“Sam rode him on Tuesday and his work was super, he’s improved a lot and should be a nice chance as well, albeit in a strong field. He’s got a nice barrier (2), he should get a lovely run in behind the speed on Saturday.”

Te Akau have claimed six of the last eight editions of the Matamata Slipper, most recently last year’s race with champion two-year-old Tokyo Tycoon.

“It is a small field this year, but there is quality in there with Karaka Million form, and Cambridge Stud’s colts (Red Sea and I’m All In). It’s going to shape up as a very interesting race,” Bergerson said.

The fillies’ race promises an exciting match-up between Captured By Love, and Listed Wellesley Stakes (1100m) victor Archaic Smile, alongside the Kelsos emphatic debut winner Alabama Lass.

A daughter of Written Tycoon, Captured By Love left her rivals fighting for minor placings in the Gr.2 Wakefield Challenge Stakes (1100m) at Trentham, and overcame unfavourable conditions at Taranaki to score the Gr.3 Taranaki 2YO Classic (1200m) on February 3.

“She didn’t love the heavy track at New Plymouth, but she toughed it out and class got her over the line. She had a nice quiet week after that, and her work on Tuesday was good with Opie on the course proper,” Bergerson said.

“It’s hard to line-up the form in the Breeders’, but we’ve got the experience and runs on the board and we’re really happy with her. There are some high-quality fillies’ there and the group one picture following Saturday will become a lot clearer.”

Bergerson indicated each of the Te Akau two-year-olds would be aimed at the Gr.1 Sistema Stakes (1200m) at Ellerslie on March 9, while all hold nominations for the Gr.1 Manawatu Sires’ Produce (1400m) three weeks’ later at Trentham.

“Getting through Saturday, the logical race for the three of them is the Sistema Stakes, but whether we split them up or not, we’re still not sure. They’ll have to run well, but ideally they’ll head in that direction,” he said.

Te Akau will also be represented by capable duo Aotea Lad and Accidental Tourist in the Listed Matamata Veterinary Services Equine Kaimai Stakes (2000m), partnered by Bosson and Billy Jacobson respectively.

“Aotea Lad produced a good tough run at Ellerslie on Saturday, he did a lot of work from a wide barrier but stuck on really well. We’ve taken a throw at the stumps with the quick back-up, but he seems in good form, carries a lot of condition and handles his racing well,” Bergerson said.

“Accidental Tourist was well outclassed in the Aotearoa Classic, but on his day he is a very nice horse. It’s his first run over ground, it should be interesting, but if he discovers his best form, I wouldn’t be surprised if he could run a cheeky race.”

After puzzling performances on Karaka Millions evening, Bergerson is hoping for an improved showing from Group One performers Talisker and Maven Belle at Otaki on Saturday.

“Talisker was a bit disappointing in the Karaka Millions 3YO (1600m), we were really happy with him going into the race, so whether it was the shifty track later in the day, we were scratching our heads a bit,” he said.

“He seemed to have pulled-up fine, if he discovered that Crocetti form, he would be hard to beat in the 3YO 1600m down there. It does look like a nice soft race for him.

“Similar case with Maven Belle, we thought she’d go a lot better than that in the Concorde (Gr.3, 1200m) but she never really rounded off, whether it was the track, we aren’t sure.

“Her work since has been faultless and the blinkers go on her, we’ll probably ride her quite conservatively and hope for a good performance, because on her day she is a Group One winner.” 

Legarto clash looms on Ladies Man’s horizon

By Richard Edmunds, LOVERACING.NZ News Desk

Extra distance and a switch to weight-for-age for Saturday’s Gr.1 Trackside Otaki-Maori WFA Classic (1600m) are steps in the right direction for Ladies Man, but his trainer Allan Sharrock is looking a few weeks further down the road.

Saturday’s $400,000 feature will be only the second Group One appearance for Ladies Man, who scored a brilliant come-from-behind victory in the Gr.1 Livamol Classic (2040m) at Hastings in October. The six-year-old son of Zed later made two appearances during the Melbourne Cup Carnival at Flemington in November, including a second placing in the Gr.3 Queen Elizabeth Stakes (2600m).

Ladies Man returned to action in a 1400m open handicap at New Plymouth on February 3, making up late ground for third behind runaway winner Ifndoubtgetout.

“I thought that was a massive run under 62kg,” Sharrock said. “He’s a serious racehorse.

“It’s still going to be a bit short for him tomorrow at 1600m, but his work has been super. We’re hoping to see him run another good race, and then his main goal will be the Bonecrusher New Zealand Stakes (Gr.1, 2000m) at Ellerslie. He’s going to have to come up against Legarto there, which is not a prospect many of us would relish, but he’s coming up really well and going the right way. I’m more than happy with the horse.”

Ladies Man will be ridden by Kate Hercock on Saturday and is rated a $10 chance in a market dominated by the high-flying Desert Lightning ($2.50).

Ladies Man headlines a talented Otaki team for Sharrock, who will also saddle the unbeaten Alexandra Quick in the Tele Otaki Handicap (1400m). The four-year-old daughter of Per Incanto has made a huge impression in both of her starts to date.

“Those two wins have been a little bit spooky and she seems to have got a bit of that X-factor,” Sharrock said.

“But the thing with her is that, as we move her up through the grades, she can’t carry on doing things as badly wrong as she has been and still keep winning races.

“She had a jumpout on Monday where she got away well and took up a position just behind the leaders. She did everything perfectly there, which was pleasing to see.

“We’ll have to wait and see what she does when we get her back to the races, but if she’s as good as she was in the jumpout, she’s got to be a very good chance.”

Saturday’s New World Otaki New Zealand St Leger Trial (2300m) marks the first appearance by Waisake since he lost his rider in the early stages of last month’s Gr.3 Wellington Cup (3200m).

“He’s taken no harm from that and has actually been working superbly,” Sharrock said. “This race will be a bit of a fork in the road for his campaign. It’ll tell us whether we look at the Auckland Cup (Gr.2, 3200m) or the St Leger (2600m).

“I think we’ve got a handful of nice chances on Saturday. Malachy seems a promising enough three-year-old and he didn’t have a lot of luck last time. There’s not many in his race this weekend and it’ll probably be a cat-and-mouse affair, but he’s got some good ability there.

“Tshiebwe needed his last-start run and could be quite a progressive stayer in the making. Going up to 2200m should suit him.

“Tavattack is coming up well. We could look at the Easter Handicap (Gr.3, 1600m) with him, or he could even travel with Ladies Man if we take him to Sydney or Brisbane.

“So even though there’s probably none I’d be wanting to put $2000 to win on, I think a few of ours should be running nice races.” 

Colgan looking to strike at Otaki

By LOVERACING.NZ News Desk

Waikato hoop Vinnie Colgan will trek down to Otaki on Saturday to partner exciting four-year-old Desert Lightning in the Gr.1 Trackside Otaki-Maori WFA Classic (1600m), and he is hoping his charge can live up to his favourite’s tag.

The Peter and Dawn Williams-trained gelding has been a standout this season, winning all but one of his four starts, including the Gr.1 TAB Classic (1600m) at Trentham in December and the inaugural $1 million Aotearoa Classic (1600m) at Ellerslie last month.

TAB bookmakers have the Pride Of Dubai gelding as a $2.50 fixed-odds favourite, with last start Gr.1 Thorndon Mile (1600m) victor Puntura on the second line of betting at $5.

Colgan has been aboard Desert Lightning in all four starts this season and has been impressed with the way he has developed since his three-year-old term where he posted a solid record of a win and four placings from nine starts, including victory in the Gr.2 Avondale Guineas (2100m) and placings in the Gr.1 New Zealand 2000 Guineas (1600m), Karaka Million 3YO Classic (1600m), and Gr.3 Manawatu Classic (2000m).

“He was a nice three-year-old and still ran well in the bigger races last season, but this year he is just a different horse. He is so much stronger and his manners (are a lot better),” Colgan told TAB NZ.

Colgan rode Desert Lightning in an exhibition gallop at Ellerslie last Saturday and is pleased with the gelding ahead of his Group One assignment.

“He had a really nice gallop at Ellerslie on the weekend and galloped brilliant. I am really looking forward to this weekend,” he said.

“As long as there is a bit of speed in the race, that will help him out a bit. He is definitely the horse to beat.”

Derby a possibility for Solidify

By Richard Edmunds, LOVERACING.NZ News Desk

Hall of Fame trainer Graeme Rogerson has bigger and better things in mind for all three of his runners at Otaki on Saturday, including a potential quick back-up into next weekend’s Gr.1 Trackside New Zealand Derby (2400m) at Ellerslie.

Rogerson will run Solidify in Saturday’s $40,000 Cavallo Farm & Chris Rutten Bloodstock 3YO (1600m).

“If he runs a good race at Otaki tomorrow and pulls up well afterwards, we’ll think very seriously about running him in the Derby,” said Rogerson, who trains in partnership with his wife Debbie.

Solidify was a Listed winner at Te Rapa last autumn, then had no luck in two black-type appearances during the Queensland winter carnival.

A second placing in the Gr.2 Hawke’s Bay Guineas (1400m) was the highlight of an up-and-down spring for the son of Redwood, who was later gelded and spelled before returning with a 10th in this month’s Gr.1 BCD Group Sprint (1400m) at Te Rapa.

“He didn’t quite perform to his best in the spring, but he had a twisted testicle and we gelded him,” Rogerson said. “We ran him in the Group One sprint first-up, which was a tough race for him to kick off in, but I thought he got going quite nicely in the last 50m. I was very happy with the run.

“He’s been working well since then and I’m expecting a big performance from him tomorrow. It’ll be interesting to see whether he can earn himself a shot at the Derby.”

The TAB currently rates Solidify an $81 chance in its Derby market, which is headed by exceptional filly Orchestral at $1.40.

Team Rogerson already has a leading Derby contender in the form of last-start Gr.2 Avondale Guineas (2100m) runner-up Just As Sharp, who is on the third line of favouritism at $10.

“I thought his Avondale Guineas run was super under the circumstances,” Rogerson said. “I didn’t think they’d be winning from the back at Ellerslie that day, so we decided to change his pattern of racing. Ryan Elliot rode him to instructions and had him up closer to the pace. As it turned out, the filly was able to run him down. We were still very happy with him considering the amount of work he’d done in the running.

“I think he’ll make a race of it against that filly in the Derby – I really do. We’ll ride him quieter. It’s going to be a good race to watch, and I’m looking forward to it.”

The other two Rogerson-trained runners at Otaki on Saturday are last-start winner Hanalei Star, who will join Solidify among a small field in the Cavallo Farm & Chris Rutten Bloodstock 3YO, and promising stayer Infer in the Harcourts Otaki Handicap (2200m).

“Hanalei Star is a filly on the way up, and she needs racing,” Rogerson said. “She’s been a very slow learner. This race should suit her – it’s only a little field, although there’s a couple of quite nice horses in it.

“I wanted to run her in the Lowland Stakes (Gr.2, 2100m) next Wednesday, but she still needs another good hit-out before going up to that sort of distance. I’ll see how she goes here and then decide on Monday whether we back her up in the Lowland.

“I think Infer is a really good staying horse in the making. He won easily at Matamata last start, then was unfortunately late-scratched at Te Rapa the other day – he had a bruise on his heel, and I put a pad over it and that just ended up pressing down on it.

“That’s come right now and he worked like a Cup horse on Tuesday. We’ll have a look at him tomorrow before making any firm decisions, but I think we’ll likely press on towards the Auckland Cup (Gr.2, 3200m). We’ve got quite a bit to look forward to over the next couple of weeks, I think.” 
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