New Zealand news briefs

Strike-rate standouts set for big day at Trentham

The Otaki stable of Johno Benner and Hollie Wynyard boasts the best strike-rate in New Zealand this season, and a quality quartet of runners at Trentham on Saturday could further embellish their impressive record.

Benner and Wynyard have won 15 races so far this season, which puts them in 16th place on the national trainers’ premiership. But they have saddled only 44 starters, giving them a strike-rate of a winner every 2.93 runners – clearly better than any other stable in the top 100. 

“We can’t really complain, things have been going pretty well for us this season,” Benner said. “We’ve got some nice horses around us, and now we’re hoping for a big day on Saturday.”

The only thing missing from Benner and Wynyard’s CV this season is black-type success, and they have three chances to rectify that this weekend.

The headline acts are Bonham and Invisible Spirit, who will take on star northern colt Brando in the Gr. 1 Devan Plastics Levin Classic (1600m).

Bonham has tasted defeat only once in her four-start career, finishing a close and creditable seventh in the Gr.1 New Zealand 1000 Guineas (1600m) at Riccarton in November.

The Per Incanto filly has won all of her other three appearances, including a brilliant victory over 1400m at Awapuni last Saturday.

Raced by prominent stable client Gary Harding, Bonham will be ridden by Lisa Allpress and sits on the third line of Levin Classic betting at $10.
“She pulled up sensationally well from last week’s race,” Benner said. 

“It was a relatively soft run for her in the end. They didn’t run the race at a crazy tempo, she had a nice trip and she really only sprinted in the last furlong or two.

“She came through that run so well, we couldn’t see any reason not to back her up this Saturday. Group Ones are so important for lovely fillies like her, so we were keen to take a shot at it. We’re expecting her to be very competitive over that 1600m at Trentham.”

Stablemate Invisible Spirit has won twice in his six-start career, including a stylish performance at Trentham last month. He has never finished further back than fourth, and he is rated a $31 chance.

“He’s been super consistent,” Benner said. “It might be a bit of an ask this weekend up against the big ones, but he’ll definitely be a runner’s chance. He’s nicely drawn (gate one) and has a good little record behind him. We won’t be surprised if he runs well.”

Another Harding runner, the promising colt Titled, will line up in the Listed IRT No.1 Wellesley Stakes (1000m). The son of Exceed and Excel was a $500,000 yearling purchase at Karaka last year, and he flew home from last to run second on debut at Tauherenikau on January 2.

Titled is the $4 second favourite in a Wellesley Stakes market headed by Quattro Quinta at $2.05.

“He’s a really smart colt who ran a big race on debut,” Benner said. “He’s taken a lot of improvement from that run. This is probably the last time you’ll ever see him line up over 1000m, but he’s going into the race in great order. We’re very happy with him.”

Rounding out the Benner-Wynyard quartet is Wononeohwon, who has been a strong winner of two of his three starts. He was late-scratched after a minor incident at the starting gates at Awapuni last Saturday.

“We just had to put him back through the barriers in a quiet trial on Tuesday this week,” Benner said. 

“I was really happy with how he went there. He’s taken no harm from that little mishap last Saturday and he’s looking great.” 

Tavi Mac, picture Trish Dunell

Tavi Mac steps into Seabiscuit role

Taranaki trainer Allan Sharrock is hoping his diminutive sprinter Tavi Mac can provide the movie fairytale finish to Saturday's Gr.1 JR & N Berkett Telegraph (1200m) at Trentham.

"It's the old battler's tale. The little horse from humble beginnings up against the expensive Fastnet Rock mare, and she'll take some beating too," Sharrock said assessing Tavi Mac's clash with four-time Group One winner Avantage, the TAB's $1.65 favourite for the Telegraph.

"It's the old Seabiscuit story. Just maybe?"

Seabiscuit was a similarly small, ugly-duckling American galloper who became a national hero during the depression, leading to his match-race win over War Admiral at Pimlico Racecourse in 1938, inspiring several movies.

Tavi Mac has won 10 of his 15 starts but chased Avantage when second in the Gr.2 Foxbridge Plate (1200m) at Te Rapa last August and also in his only start at Group One level when he finished sixth to her third in the Tarzino Trophy (1400m) at Hastings in September.

"I can't fault him. He's glided through his last couple of wins," Sharrock said.

"We've increased the intensity but he's loved it and he's right on top of his game at the moment. But he'll need to be to beating the mare (Avantage).

"Look at the Foxbridge Plate. He swished his tail and made her work all the way to the line for her win that day. And he's improved out of sight since then. He's a far more polished racehorse now. But as we saw in the Railway, she's improved a lot since then too.

"But he's in outstanding condition for this. His coat has come back to me again. He's peaking again and his work suggests he's at his best."

Tavi Mac's clash with Avantage promises to be the highlight of a premier day of racing at Trentham on Saturday and could embellish Sharrock's record as a breeder too.

Sharrock co-bred Tavi Mac along with his owners Hector and Ann McCallum and the late Joe Fleming and is hoping the Tavistock five-year-old gelding could emulate his previous Group One co-breeding success with I Do.

"I've got some lovely mares around me at the moment: Twoznotenough, Madonna Mia, I Do, all mares I've developed on the racetrack," Sharrock said.

"I'm looking out at Bellaroof (Tavi Mac's dam) in the paddock and she's in foal to Contributer, has a Time Test filly at foot and a Highly Recommeded yearling gelding.

"All of hers have run and won but Tavi Mac has been the best of them. Mind you he was probably the worst on type. But the next time one like him comes along I'll be grabbing him without second asking."

Sharrock said he would assess Tavi Mac's Telegraph run before deciding on his next move but suggested the chances of a start in the Gr.1 Harcourts Thorndon Mile (1600m) at Trentham on January 30 were "remote".

"If he happened to win, we'd look at the (BCD Group) Sprint at Te Rapa (on February 12) but he's been up a long while and you'd like to think races like the Tarzino Trophy (1400m at Hastings next August) and Windsor Park Plate (1600m at Hastings next September) were his type of races.

"Knowing me, I might slip his shoes off on Sunday and give him two months in the paddock too."

Sharrock will also saddle Sinarahma in the Gr.3 Wellington Seamarket Anniversary Handicap (1600m), Our Hail Mary in the Gr.3 Dixon & Dunlop Trentham Stakes (2100m) and Waisake in the Grant Plumbing Premier (2200m).

"I'm going to the races with four horses that couldn't be going any better. Three of them are at their peak and Waisake still has another turn of the screw ahead of the Wellington Cup," Sharrock said.

"Emma (Davies, Sharrock's partner) was flat holding Sinarahma in her work over 600m in 39 seconds the other morning. She was fair dinkum bolting.

 "Our Hail Mary is poorly off at the weights under the set weights and penalties but she's on an upward trajectory. Her work on Tuesday was enormous. She's a gorgeous mare and she'll eat up 2100m."