Marsh seeking to extend Wellington Stakes run
The Gr.3 Lucia Valentina Wellington Stakes (1600m) is quickly becoming Stephen Marsh’s favourite race on the calendar.
The Cambridge horseman is going for his fourth consecutive win in the race at Otaki on Thursday after victories by stable representatives Crown Prosecutor (2018), Scorpz (2019), and Zee Falls (2020).
Marsh also won the race in 2013 with Lucia Valentina, the namesake of the race.
“I love the race and we have got a couple of nice horses to try and keep that record intact,” Marsh said.
Leading Marsh’s charge is last start Gr.2 Soliloquy Stakes (1400m) runner-up Dubai Diva, who had a subsequent trial victory over 1225m at Taupo last week.
“I thought it was a beautiful run (in the Soliloquy), but she was still just doing a few things wrong. She fought all the way to the line and I think she has gone ahead from there too.
“I trialled her at Taupo the other day and I thought she was much more professional and I wanted to give Sam Weatherley (jockey) a feel for her.
“Sam takes the reins on Thursday, (Michael) McNab rode her last start but he has another commitment. She hasn’t been the easiest in her races so that’s why I put Sam on her at the trials, to give him a feel.
“I thought the trial was lovely and she is just a real improving type of filly.”
Marsh will also line-up last start winner Barrow Boy in the three-year-old feature.
“His first-up run for us was okay (when fourth at Te Aroha last month), we thought he would win,” Marsh said.
“We put blinkers on him and he won by about five lengths (last start). He has found another gear with the blinkers on, he is going really well.
“He is another strong chance.”
Marsh will be vying for more stakes spoils at Otaki on Thursday in the Listed Courtesy Ford Levin Stakes (1200m), a race he has won twice before with Barbaric (2013) and Evalina (2019).
Oseleta will represent the stable in this year’s edition and Marsh is confident of a bold showing from the Gr.1 Sistema Railway (1200m) aspirant.
“Her fresh-up win was good and her last campaign was outstanding. I thought her win the other day was very impressive,” he said.
“She is going to get in on the minimum (53kg). She is a real lightweight chance.
“She is a good mare and she is hopefully on her way to a race like the Railway.”
Stern test for Yes We Khan
Grant Cooksley will get a true guide to the ability of promising three-year-old Yes We Khan when he contests the Listed Trevor & Corallie Eagle Memorial 3YO (1500m) at Te Aroha on Saturday.
Yes We Khan looked like a good staying prospect when he won at Pukekohe on November 11, switching ground and taking gaps willingly before outstaying his opponents over 1400m.
Cooksley, who trains the son of Mongolian Khan in partnership with Bruce Wallace at Byerley Park, knew he would be facing better opposition at Te Aroha, but it’s turned out to be a deeper field than anticipated.
Among those nominated are unbeaten Gr.2 Sarten Memorial Stakes (1400m) winner Pareanui Bay, black type winner Lady Maroal, and the exciting fillies La Crique, La Bella Beals, Aquacade, and Just Dance.
“He should go a good race, though it’s a little bit stronger than I thought it would be,” Cooksley said of Yes We Khan, who will be ridden by Leith Innes on Saturday.
“He’s got to step up so we can judge how he’s going, whether he’s going to improve and how good he actually is.”
Bought for $10,000 from the Highview Stud draft in Book 2 of the 2020 New Zealand Bloodstock National Yearling Sales at Karaka, Yes We Khan is by multiple Derby winner Mongolian Khan out of the Pentire mare Nothing But A Grin, a sister to Australian Guineas winner Ferlax.
He holds a nomination for the Gr.1 Vodafone New Zealand Derby (2400m) in March and Cooksley said that would be his principal three-year-old aim.
“All his breeding says he wants 2000m and further, and he’s getting stronger and stronger,” Cooksley said.
“It was a good win last time, he’s still learning what it’s all about. He relaxes well in his races and he’s coming along quite well.”
Meanwhile, the stable’s best older horse Gino Severini returned to racing from a brief let-up in the Listed Counties Bowl (1100m) at Te Rapa last week, dashing home from well back to finish fifth behind Levante.
The eight-year-old showed a real zest for racing in early spring, finishing second in the Gr.2 Foxbridge Plate (1200m), fourth in the Gr.1 Tarzino Trophy (1400m), and third in the Gr.1 Windsor Park Plate (1600m) before his break.
“It was a very good run last Saturday with 60 kilos on his back and he got home really well,” Cooksley said.
Gino Severini will be kept to races between 1400m and 1600m for the immediate future, preferably without having to travel away from the northern region. His next race likely to be the Gr.3 J Swap Sprint (1400m) at Te Rapa on December 11.
Another to impress from the Cooksley-Wallace team at Te Rapa last weekend was Sacred Satono, who ran well for second behind the highly-rated Bright Blue Sky in the Listed Fasttrack Insurance 2YO Stakes (1100m).
A $34,000 purchase from the Rich Hill Stud draft at Book 2 of the 2021 National Yearling Sale, Sacred Satono had earlier finished second on debut behind Think Twice.
“He’s gone out for a few days after that run,” Cooksley said. “From here we’re going to focus on getting ready for the Karaka Million.”
With $18,500 in prizemoney from his first two starts, Sacred Satono is from the first crop of exciting young Deep Impact stallion Satono Aladdin, and is all but guaranteed a place in the Karaka Million field.
“He’s still a little bit immature, so he will be better as a three-year-old. He’s a really relaxed horse and nothing seems to worry him,” Cooksley said.
Europe in the crosshairs for Verry Elleegant
Australia’s darling of the turf, Verry Elleegant, will likely get her chance to pit her talents against the best in Europe next year.
The New Zealand-bred has nothing left to prove in Australia, having won 10 Group One races, ranging in distance from 1400m to 3200m.
The Gr.1 Prix de l'Arc de Triomphe (2400m) in Paris next September has been earmarked as her main target, a race that was bandied around by some of her owners previously.
"The owners raised the idea last year and I wasn't quite as keen, but I think now is a good time to do it,” Waller told UK Racing TV show Luck On Sunday.
"The beauty of Verry Elleegant is that she is adaptable over all distances. She's won a Group One race over 1400m through to 3200m now and she's won in all conditions.
"A very firm surface is no problem and a very wet surface, she is almost as effective. To me that is the right type of horse to travel.
"She's a very clean-winded horse who doesn't need a lot of work. She can do her work here in Australia and pick out two or three races over there.
"The owners have their hearts set on the Arc, which is obviously a very, very hard race to win.
“We wouldn't come expecting to win the Arc. It's just great racing and to be part of it is one thing and to have a horse good enough to be winning that many Group One races here in Australia, obviously she is at the level required to be at least competitive, of course respecting what we will be taking on."
While not yet certain whether Verry Elleegant may kick-off in England next winter on her way to France, Waller said her Australian preparation would include four starts and end with the Gr.1 Queen Elizabeth Stakes (2000m) in April.
"She will start racing in mid-February and her last race in her preparation will be her fourth race and that will be about the 10th of April.
“We'll have that time to prepare to bring her across and work out whether we come out early or late and probably late being a mare with seasonal challenges and all."
The daughter of Grangewilliam Stud stallion Zed was originally trained in New Zealand by part-owner Nick Bishara, for whom she won two of her three starts before her partial sale and move to Australia.
Pareanui Bay hoping to land Eagle
Exciting galloper Pareanui Bay got the testing hit-out trainer Tony Pike was looking for when trialling at Cambridge on Tuesday.
A dominant winner of the Gr.2 James and Annie Sarten Memorial Stakes (1400m) at Te Rapa a month ago, Pareanui Bay finished second in a 950m on his home track and is set to take his place in Saturday’s Listed Trevor & Corallie Eagle Memorial 3YO (1500m) at Te Aroha.
“He was really good today,” Pike said.
“They probably ran along at raceday speed or a touch quicker with an apprentice on Stephen Marsh’s horse (Master Park, who led and won).
“He travelled up nice coming to the corner and came up off heels and closed it off nicely late under minimal pressure and was good past the post.
“It was a nice day out for him. With four and a half weeks between runs we just wanted to give him a day out today to sharpen him up a bit before Saturday.”
The heat was run in a slick 53.46 seconds, clearly the fastest of the four heats over the journey, with top-liners Aegon and Coventina Bay finishing in the second half of the field, but Pike said the solid gallop was a positive for the son of Lonhro who is raced by his breeders Brent and Cherry Taylor of Trelawney Stud.
“He is pretty laid back in his track work,” Pike said. If he had galloped on the track this morning he probably wouldn’t have exerted himself and he needed a genuine hit-out.
“I’m not too concerned (about the speed), he probably needed that and had a nice blow afterwards.
“We won’t do much now before Saturday. He carries a lot of residual fitness with those two runs under his belt and with that gallop today I can’t see why he won’t be very competitive.”
Pike said Saturday’s test on a right-handed and roomier track was all with feature races at Ellerslie in mind, with the Listed Shaw's Wire Ropes Uncle Remus Stakes (1400m) on Boxing Day or the Gr.2 SkyCity Auckland Guineas (1600m) on New Year’s day both possible targets.
“We are still learning what his best distance will be on the way through, but his pedigree suggests he is probably 50-50 of getting out to a Derby trip,” Pike said.
“As we work though some of the three-year-old races and get up to a mile we will have more of a concrete understanding of where we are heading with him.
“We could even give him a crack at the Herbie Dyke (Gr.1, 2000m). With the strength of our weight for age horses like Melody Belle and Avantage not on the scene anymore, it is probably a race a three-year-old could be competitive in.”
Pike will also have a small team heading to Otaki on Thursday including royally bred Fastnet Rock mare Puysegur, who will contest the Listed Courtesy Ford Levin Stakes (1200m).
A stakes-placed three-quarter sister to star mare Avantage, Puysegur will carry just 53kgs as she attempts to gain bold black-type and has had two trials after a lengthy absence from racing.
“Coming back off a long break, she had a little fetlock chip that needed taking out, that is the only concern,” Pike said.
“She will definitely improve with the run but off a light weight she should be competitive first up.”
The Cambridge horseman has also welcomed back Gr.1 New Zealand 2000 Guineas (1600m) placegetter Field Of Gold to the stable after a brief break.
“We are not quite sure where he will kick off yet but are more than likely to go to the mile on New Year’s Day (Gr.2, Auckland Guineas). He could kick off at Awapuni two weeks before hand,” Pike said.
“He is on a potential Derby path but how we get there is at the moment a little bit up in the air.”
Pike also reported that classy filly There You Go was out spelling and will most likely be set for later Oaks in Sydney or Brisbane.“We’ve had a good talk to Steve and we are going to give the New Zealand Oaks (Gr.1, 2400m) a miss. Her owner Steve Bruhn is based in Australia and if we think she is going well enough she could head to Sydney and or Brisbane for some of the three-year-old fillies races over there,” Pike said