New Zealand news briefs

Cambridge trainer looking to get his Foote in the till at Hastings

Cambridge trainer Ben Foote is looking forward to heading to Hastings this weekend where he is hoping Sakura Blossom can extend her faultless form line in the Remember “Jooky” 1200.

While the four-year-old mare has yet to taste defeat, Foote said she still has plenty of maturing to do after racing greenly on debut on the Cambridge Synthetic earlier this month, where class saw her through.

“It didn’t really go to plan on debut,” Foote said. “I don’t think you have seen anywhere near the best of her. A bit more experience and she will show what she really is.

“She is a bit of a work in progress but she has got some talent.”

With the exception of a trial at Avondale last year, Sakura Blossom hasn’t ventured far from Waikato but Foote doesn’t believe the 10-hour round float trip to Hastings will bother her this weekend.

“I don’t think it will affect her too much,” he said. “She walks about 550 kilos, she is a big mare. She has got a couple of annoying traits, but I don’t think too much will worry her.”

Foote has been pleased with her work in the lead-up and believing she is a Group-level horse he said he is just wanting to increase her rating over her coming few starts.

“She had a good hit-out on Saturday and made some of the fast ones look slow. I think we are on the right track,” he said.

“I just want to get her ratings points up because I think she is a Group horse. We just need to get her points up to get into those races.”

Meanwhile, Foote is excited about a couple of his three-year-olds who could be on a path towards the Gr.1 New Zealand 2000 Guineas (1600m) at Riccarton in November, including Ruach, a half-brother to Travelling Light, and Whisky Mac and Ayreon, who have pleased in their trials.

“Ruach is a half-brother to Travelling Light and he has got a lot of ability,” Foote said.

“Once he steps up to 1400m and a mile, hopefully we will see the best of him. There will be a race for him in a couple of weeks.

“He is a really good doing horse and is quite tough too. At this stage we are going to head in that 2000 Guineas direction, but he has got to prove himself.

“Whisky Mac is a horse with a hell of a lot of potential. He will have another trial and then it is a long shot to get him there (2000 Guineas) in time, but if he proves himself in two starts, he might head in that direction.

“And Ayreon is going to kick-off in about 10 days. He is a nice, handy horse.”

Foote has also been pleased with the way stable stars Babylon Berlin and Travelling Light have returned to his barn ahead of their spring and summer preparations.

Babylon Berlin put her hand up as a horse of the future last season when winning four of her 10 starts, including the Gr.3 Cambridge Breeders’ Stakes (1200m) at Te Rapa, and placed in the Gr.3 Gold Trail Stakes (1200m), Gr.3 Almanzor Trophy (1200m), and Listed Mufhasa Stakes (1300m).

“Babylon Berlin had a jumpout on Friday and she will trial tomorrow-week at Cambridge,” Foote said. 

“If they have return flights to Christchurch she could start in the Pegasus (Listed, 1000m), otherwise, we will look at the Counties Bowl (Listed, 1100m).

“Ultimately, she is on a path towards the Railway (Gr.1, 1200m), that’s what I plan with her. 

“She is a bigger, stronger horse now and is just as angry. I have got high expectations with her this season.”

Group One winner Travelling Light has also pleased Foote with her condition upon her return.

“She is not far off,” he said. “She might kick-off in the Breeders (Gr.2, 1400m) in November at Counties, or an Open Handicap in the week before, looking towards possibly starting in the Captain Cook (Gr.1, 1600m).

“She has done three weeks on the water treadmill at Margaret Park and has come back in really good order. I am happy with her.” 

Punters take leap of faith

Comeback galloper Dragon Leap returns to the races for only the second time since February 2020 when he contests Saturday’s Gr.1 Tarzino Trophy (1400m) at Hastings. 

The now five-year-old was one of New Zealand’s top three-year-olds and a leading fancy for the Gr.1 New Zealand Derby (2400m) after successive Group Two victories in the Auckland Guineas (1600m) and Avondale Guineas (2100m) respectively. 

But the 2400m proved a bridge too for the Lance O’Sullivan and Andrew Scott-trained galloper, and while finishing a game fourth, the Pierro gelding will unlikely be stretched to such a distance again.

Despite only racing once since, when finishing eighth in the Gr.2 Tramway Stakes (1400m) in Sydney last spring, punters have shown their respect for Dragon Leap’s ability by installing him a $5.50 equal third favourite for the Tarzino.

“He is as forward as we can get him with one trial and the work-outs that he has received,” Andrew Scott said. 

“We have to bear in mind that he has had one run in 18 months and although he is not a horse that takes a lot of work to get up to raceday standard, just being older and practically a year off raceday fitness, it is really hard to know actually how forward he is.

“We are under no illusion that there is going to be further improvement post-Saturday but we think we have him fit enough to be competitive.”

Dragon Leap wrenched a fetlock in Sydney in the spring and after rehabilitating from that setback, ventured to Brisbane in the winter but wasn’t sighted on raceday. 

“He trialled once in Brisbane where he clashed with Tofane (triple Group One winner) and trialled as good as her,” Scott said. 

“The next week he got a high temperature and we aborted the trip and brought him home. We thought we were on track for a good preparation. 

“He only had 10 days off after the high temperature before we brought him home and all roads have led to Hawke’s Bay.

“We don’t believe he has lost any of his ability and none of the issues that he has had have lingered. He’s a sound horse.”

Despite being nominated for all three legs of the Hawke’s Bay triple crown, it is unlikely the horse would race beyond a mile. 

“We have got no plans post-Saturday, whether that is Australia or New Zealand,” Scott said.
“We have to take it one race at a time. He is still at a place in the ratings where he can run in handicaps in New Zealand. We just want to analyse his performance and check him post-race. It is about getting the show back on the road.”

Dragon Leap will be the sole starter for the Matamata trainers on Saturday at Hastings, with handy winter galloper Aero de Paris to contest the Open 1200m handicap at Te Aroha on Sunday, while first starter Dark Destroyer will likely debut at Taupo on Friday.

A son of Proisir, Dark Destroyer is raced by David and Dianne Archer and holds a nomination for the Gr.1 Al Basti Equiworld Dubai New Zealand 2000 Guineas (1600m) at Riccarton on November 6. 

“He looks a promising young horse. He has trialled well, including a trial at Taupo, so he should run well,” Scott said.

“While we have got a few three-year-olds that we do like, he is probably one of the stronger and more advanced of them. David is always of the opinion that if you’re not in, you can’t win. 

“If there is rain about, as is forecast, we think he will cope on Soft ground.”

Funny Girl on a trail for gold

Funny Girl broke through for her maiden victory first-up on the Cambridge synthetic earlier this month and trainer Lance Noble believes that will give her an edge on her rivals heading into the Gr.3 Hawke’s Bay Breeders’ Gold Trail Stakes (1200m) at Hastings on Saturday.

With heavy rain forecast ahead of the weekend Noble said her fitness may prove to be an advantage on the rain-affected track.

“She won well at Cambridge,” Noble said of the Brendan and Jo Lindsay raced filly. 

“She has had that run under her belt and there are probably a few horses that are going to go into the Gold Trail fresh. I think we will benefit if it is a little bit wetter, having had that run under our belt.”

While the daughter of Showcasing raced on the synthetic in her fresh-up three-year-old assignment, she did place in her two juvenile starts on the grass, so is proven on the surface.

“She did perform well last season as a two-year-old (on the grass). She ran into a couple of good horses when she was placed at two,” Noble said.

“It will be a big step up for her but when you are an early three-year-old you don’t know until you measure them up against the best that are around.”

An unknown factor ahead of the weekend is travel, with the float journey from Noble’s Karaka base to Hastings set to be Funny Girl’s longest trip to date.

“It’s a little bit further than the Waikato. She is a pretty sensible horse so I think she will travel well,” Noble said.

Funny Girl will be joined on the float trip south by Ziegfeld, but whether her stablemate makes the full journey to Hastings is yet to be decided.

“Ziegfeld, who is another three-year-old filly, she is in a (rating) 65 1300m, but there is a 65 1300 at Taupo the day before, so we will double nominate and see what the track conditions come up,” Noble said.

Ziegfeld won her only start at Ruakaka in April and Noble has been pleased with her two trials this time in, albeit against open class gallopers the like of Catalyst.

“It’s always a bit hard because she has won a race so in the trials she has had to take on the older horses,” Noble said.

“Her last run on the synthetic was okay but I think she will appreciate getting back on a grass track.

“She is progressing well. We see her more as a mile horse, hence why we aren’t going to the Gold Trail with her, we will just take a different path. 

“I think once she gets up to a mile she will be very competitive.”