New Zealand news briefs

Jockey dilemma for English Gambler

By Richard Edmunds, LOVERACING.NZ News Desk

The Manawatu ITM Awapuni Hurdle (3000m) has not been a kind race to quality hurdler English Gambler, and the week leading into his third shot at the $60,000 feature at Woodville this Sunday has caused more headaches for his trainer Lauren Brennan.

The son of Casino Prince has run in the Awapuni Hurdle in each of the last two years, finishing fourth in 2022 and being pulled up a year later. On both occasions, he was tripped up by gruelling Heavy10 tracks at Trentham.

English Gambler kicked off his 2024 jumping season on a promising note with a bold front-running win at Te Rapa on May 4. However, after seeing an unfavourable weather forecast earlier this week, Brennan had serious reservations about committing to a third tilt at the Awapuni Hurdle.

Woodville ended up missing the worst of that weather and was rated a Soft6 on Friday, but now those few days of uncertainty have caused a different issue.

“The horse has been doing really well since his win at Te Rapa,” Brennan said. “Earlier in the week I thought we were very unlikely to go to this race because of how the weather was shaping up, but now it’s looking like the Woodville track won’t be too bad.

“The problem we have now is trying to find someone to ride him. The jockeys all made other bookings when we thought we weren’t going to run. We might end up needing a scratching to free someone up to ride him. We’ll just have to wait and see what happens.”

English Gambler was guided to his Te Rapa victory by Hamish McNeill, who has a commitment to ride the promising Paul Nelson and Corinna McDougal-trained runner Taika at Woodville this week.

Despite the uncertainty, the TAB still rates English Gambler a $5 equal favourite for Sunday’s Awapuni Hurdle. Remarkably, he shares that quote with three other runners in the 12-horse field – Berry The Cash, Taika and Oxygen.

Meanwhile, Brennan will also have representation at Pukekohe on Saturday with talented four-year-old Asgard contesting the TAB NZ (2100m).

This will be the first start beyond 1600m for the four-year-old Almanzor gelding, who was a five-length maiden winner at Otaki two starts ago.

“He’s going really well,” Brennan said. “This is his first time up over ground, so hopefully Joe (Doyle, jockey) will be able to get him to relax and he can run it out strongly.” 

Blinkers to boost Prioress for Autumn Sprint Final defence

By Richard Edmunds, LOVERACING.NZ News Desk

Lisa Latta hopes a gear change might help turn around a disappointing campaign for Prioress as she heads to Trentham to defend her title in Saturday’s $50,000 The Metro Interiors Autumn Sprint Final (1200m).

The daughter of Proisir scored an impressive victory over Highlighter in last year’s renewal of the lucrative Rating 75 sprint. It capped a consistent run of form that had seen her place in all of her five previous starts dating back to February.

It has been a different story for Prioress in her five-year-old season. She was a second placegetter at this course over 1200m in November and again over 1100m in December, but has been unplaced in six starts since returning from a summer freshen-up – most of them on good or soft tracks, rather than her preferred heavy.

Prioress showed more promising signs with a third placing with blinkers on in a Foxton trial on May 14.

“Her form definitely hasn’t been as good this time around,” Latta said. “Part of that is probably because she just hasn’t quite had the right track conditions.

“We’ve also tried putting some blinkers on, and I thought she performed quite a lot better when she trialled in blinkers at Foxton a fortnight ago. So we’re hoping that might help to improve her form a little bit.”

Chris Dell will take the ride on Prioress on Saturday, with Lily Sutherland riding stablemate Amosia in her first appearance since September.

“She’s coming up well,” Latta said. “She usually takes a run or two to build into her campaigns though, and she’s probably better on a looser track.”

Latta collected two wins at Trentham last Saturday with Belle’s Echo and Lincoln Star, and both will back up and return to the same venue a week later. Belle’s Echo will contest the Majestic Horse Floats (1400m), while Lincoln Star lines up in the John Cryan (2200m).

“They’ve both come through their wins last Saturday really well,” Latta said. “They should run well again. We initially weren’t sure about backing up with Belle’s Echo, but I’ve been really happy with her through this week. She has a very good record around Wellington.”

Belle’s Echo has had six starts at Trentham for three wins and a placing.

Another Latta-trained runner in strong form is Jestin Case, who steps up in class for Saturday’s Autotech Doors (1600m).

Unplaced in all of her first four starts between July and September last year, the four-year-old has taken a big step forward this time in with two wins and a second from her four races since March.

“I’ve been really happy with everything she’s done this time in,” Latta said. “It’s another step up on Saturday, going up to Rating 75 grade, but she’s in great form at the moment.”

There are also three first-starters among Latta’s big Trentham team on Saturday, including the two-year-old Mr Miyagi.

By Staphanos out of the 10-race winner Shezatoucha, Mr Miyagi was a $45,000 purchase from Book 2 of Karaka 2023.

“He’s not very big, so we’ll probably give him one race and then put him aside to let him grow a bit more,” Latta said. “But he’s a nice horse and he tries hard.”

Conor in good order for campaign-opener

By Paul Vettise, LOVERACING.NZ News Desk

Stakes performer Conor O’Ceirin will take his first steps toward upcoming feature race targets when he resumes at Trentham on Saturday.

The seven-year-old has a tidy first-up record and trainer Robbie Patterson is expecting the gelding to give another strong account of himself in the Majestic Horse Floats Handicap (1400m).

Stablemate Shameless Boy will also return from a break in the Manawatu ITM Steeplechase Day Tomorrow At Woodville Handicap (1200m) and the unbeaten galloper is in good shape for the task ahead.

Conor O’Ceirin is coming back from a lengthy break but has been given a thorough grounding and is a four-time winner off a break.

“He galloped super yesterday (Thursday) morning and the rider got off and said he would be very competitive,” Patterson said.

“He has trialled up really well, we know he’s got plenty of ability and he’s a bold sort of horse, so I can’t see why he won’t go a good race fresh-up.

“There is a bit of race day fitness in that race but there’s no reason why the big fellow won’t be right there.”

Conor O’Ceirin has won both of his open trials at Waverley and Foxton ahead of his Trentham assignment, in which Courtney Barnes will guide his fortunes from an inside barrier.

“He’s had a jump-out as well and has had some good work at home, so he won’t be too far away,” Patterson said.

Conor O’Ceirin’s future goals are the Listed Sinclair Electrical Opunake Cup (1400m) at New Plymouth on July 20 and the Gr.3 Winning Edge Presentations Winter Cup (1600m) at Riccarton a fortnight later.

The son of Dial A Prayer, who has six career victories to his credit, finished third in the Winter Cup during his last campaign and also has a placing in the Gr.3 Anniversary Handicap (1600m) on his resume.

Meanwhile, Shameless Boy will bid to keep his unbeaten record intact following wins at Otaki and New Plymouth earlier this year.

“It’s a step up and with topweight it won’t be easy, but he’s won on heavy ground before and he’s got the ability,” Patterson said.

Apprentice Lemmy Douglas’ claim will bring the three-year-old’s impost down to 58kg.

“We’ll put the blinkers on him and he’s probably only trialled up average, but he’s very laid back,” Patterson said.

“At the trials, we don’t use the stick on him but when you do he digs in, and he’s a horse that when you just leave him alone he’ll pull up.

“The blinkers will keep him sharp and with the couple of kilos off we hope it will do the trick. He’s pretty forward after those trials and a jump-out.”

Further success will also force potential suitors to dig deeper for the son of Shamexpress.

“He’s for sale so if he was to win, he could end up offshore, but we’ll take it run by run,” Patterson said.

Shameless Boy is a younger brother of stablemate and recent Hawera winner Catherinenz with the pair raced by breeder Roger Blunt, a Waikato dairy farmer. 

Star Shadow out to set new mark for Walker and Bergerson

By Richard Edmunds, LOVERACING.NZ News Desk

Promising filly Star Shadow has the chance to break new ground for New Zealand’s leading stable when she lines up as a hot favourite in Saturday’s Listed Staphanos at Novara Park Champagne Stakes (1600m) at Pukekohe.

Te Akau trainers Mark Walker and Sam Bergerson have already celebrated no fewer than seven black-type wins with their two-year-olds this season. Move To Strike won last month’s Gr.1 Manawatu Sires’ Produce Stakes (1400m), while Captured By Love took out the Gr.2 Wakefield Challenge Stakes (1100m), Gr.2 Matamata Breeders’ Stakes (1200m) and Gr.3 Taranaki 2YO Classic (1200m).

Other feature victories have come from Bellatrix Star in the Gr.2 Eclipse Stakes (1200m), Nucleozor in the Listed Welcome Stakes (1000m) and Discretion Rules in Riccarton’s Listed Champagne Stakes (1200m).

Those seven black-type juvenile wins have equalled the mark set by former Te Akau trainer Jamie Richards in 2020-21. That season’s triumphs came from star juvenile performers such as Group One winners Sword Of State and On The Bubbles, plus a highly promising Eclipse Stakes winner named Imperatriz.

Now Star Shadow will give the powerhouse stable a shot at an extraordinary eighth juvenile stakes win for the season. Surprisingly, the Fortuna filly could also become the Te Akau team’s first winner of this race, which is traditionally run at Ellerslie.

Walker and Bergerson have won a total of 23 races with their team of two-year-olds this season. Star Shadow joined that list with an impressive come-from-behind performance on debut at Otaki on April 13.

In her only start since then, the daughter of Reliable Man produced an eye-catching finish into fifth behind the highly impressive Super Photon in the Listed Waikato Equine Veterinary Centre 2YO Stakes (1400m) at Te Rapa on May 4.

“She worked home well in that race at Te Rapa and didn’t have a huge amount of room in the straight either, so we were pleased with that performance,” Walker said.

“We’ve been really happy with her since that race as well. She’s in terrific order. She had her final gallop right-handed on Wednesday morning.”

The 1600m distance of the Champagne Stakes makes it a unique test of stamina on the New Zealand two-year-old calendar, and the heavy track conditions at Pukekohe will only add to that challenge this weekend. But Walker believes Star Shadow will be up to the task.

“We have no doubt that she’ll handle the step up to 1600m,” he said. “She relaxes beautifully in her races and then finishes them off strongly. Her debut win was on a Heavy8 at Otaki, so we know she gets through wet ground too. I don’t think we’ll have any worries about the track at Pukekohe this weekend.”

Star Shadow was a $35,000 purchase by David Ellis from Book 2 of Karaka 2023. She will be ridden by Wiremu Pinn in Saturday’s $100,000 feature and is the TAB’s $1.40 favourite.

Star Shadow headlines a six-strong team at Pukekohe on Saturday for Walker and Bergerson, who hold a runaway premiership lead with a total of 151 wins for the season.

Zantabulous has been a strong performer in Rating 75 company in recent weeks, headlined by a win at Te Rapa on April 14, and she is expected to be highly competitive again in Saturday’s Thanks Peter & Dawn Williams (1600m) with premiership-leading jockey Warren Kennedy in the saddle.

Baronet and Devoted bring solid form credentials into their assignments in the Ellerslie Events (1400m) and TAB NZ (2100m) respectively, where apprentice jockey Tayla Melvin’s 4kg claim brings them down to ideal positions in the weights. 

Flat assignments for star jumpers

By Joshua Smith, LOVERACING.NZ News Desk

Paul Nelson and Corrina McDougal’s star jumpers Nedwin and The Cossack will line-up over the weekend, but they won’t feature over the fences.

Nedwin featured prominently in the prestige hurdles last year, taking out the Waikato Hurdle (3200m) and Great Northern Hurdle (4200m).

He resumed with an unplaced run over 2060m at Wanganui earlier this month and will have another flat run at Trentham on Saturday in the John Cryan 2200 to ready for his upcoming jumps season.

“He needs a run and we were waiting for a wet track,” Nelson said. “It’s only his second run, but we will just take it as it is.”

While Nedwin has added six hurdle wins to his six flat triumphs, he has yet to be tested over the bigger fences, something that will change in the coming months.

“He will start somewhere along the line and then we will think about a chase,” Nelson said. “He would be the top-rated hurdler (96 rating), so that weight starts to catch up with you at some time.”

A day later at Woodville, the stable’s champion jumper The Cossack will feature on the same card as his archrival West Coast, but the pair won’t meet just yet, with The Cossack kicking off his preparation on the flat in the Property Brokers Woodville-Pahiatua Cup (2100m).

Last year The Cossack was victorious in the Waikato Steeplechase (3900m) and Pakuranga Hunt Cup (4800m) but was bettered by West Coast in the Wellington Steeplechase (5500m) and Great Northern Steeplechase (6500m).

Nelson and McDougal are looking forward to kicking off his campaign and readying for a reunion with the West Coast this jumping season.

“He will enjoy a heavy track,” Nelson said.

“Getting stopped in his (The Cossack) tracks at Wellington, we didn’t get a fair go at him (West Coast), the northern we might have been a bit over the top, and he might not get to 6500m.”

While The Cossack won’t meet West Coast on Sunday, stablemate Raucous will in the LJ Hooker Manawatu Steeplechase (4000m).

“Raucous is raucous,” Nelson quipped. “He gallops around and does what he wants.”

Nelson will also line-up Taika in the Manawatu ITM Awapuni Hurdle (3000m) on Sunday, while Foxalot is a doubtful starter in the Braeside Farm Hurdle (3000m).

“Hopefully we are somewhere near it with him (Taika),” Nelson said. “He ran a pretty nice race the other day on the flat.

“It depends on how the track is, Foxalot might not handle a really heavy track. We needed to give her another start somewhere.”