Emerging stars add to Te Aroha intrigue
Two of New Zealand’s emerging stars will step out on Saturday’s Te Aroha undercard as they progress toward feature summer targets.
Gold Watch will shoot for his sixth consecutive victory in the Geoff Brindley Memorial (1400m) while Sakura Blossom will defend her unbeaten record in the Piako Rural Services Handicap (1100m).
Prepared by evergreen trainer Cliff Goss, Gold Watch set off on his hot streak after suffering his sole defeat in his three-year-old debut and most recently resumed off an eight-month break to lump 62kg to win at Te Rapa.
“He hit his head on the starting gates when he jumped out and he did well to get out of it with the weight he had,” the 90-year-old Tauranga-based horseman said.
Gold Watch will drop to 54kg when he makes his open class debut on Saturday and with regular rider Jonathan Riddell unable to make the weight, the prized mount on the son of Swiss Ace has gone to Danielle Johnson.
“Danielle will have done her homework and watched his races so she will know all about him,” Goss said.
Gold Watch has been set for the Gr.2 Rich Hill Mile (1600m) at Ellerslie on New Year’s Day and, while taking nothing for granted, Goss is confident the chestnut can take another winning step toward his target race.
“If anything, the horse has improved because he was a little bit fat first-up. I think he is better now, but there are some good horses in it and Packing Rockstar goes well,” he said. “He has got to give him 6kg though, which is a lot to be giving a horse like our fellow.”
Meanwhile, Cambridge trainer Ben Foote is hoping Sakura Blossom can complete her hat-trick of wins to take a step closer to a crack at the Gr.1 Sistema Railway (1200m) at Ellerslie on January 1.
The Vancouver mare was a debut winner on the synthetic track at Cambridge in September and made her next appearance during the Hawke’s Bay spring carnival. She blew the start there before producing a powerhouse finish from last to win comfortably.
Sakura Blossom was subsequently side-lined by a foot abscess and warmed up for her return with a quiet trial at Taupo earlier this month.
“Obviously, it’s another step up for her, but she has got a ton of ability. She’s not the soundest of horses so I have to be careful how I manage her,” Foote said.
“I don’t know how long I will have her sound and the Railway might be a bit of a longshot so she would have to win comfortably on Saturday, but put it this way – she can gallop with Babylon Berlin quite easily.”
Babylon Berlin is locked in for the Railway and successfully opened her campaign in the Listed Pegasus Stakes (1000m) at Riccarton before she ran third behind Levante in the Listed Counties Bowl at Te Rapa.
“The trip to Christchurch might have taken the edge off her a bit and I’m reasonably confident she can turn the tables in the Railway,” Foote said.Filly cutting shapes just like mum
Just Dance has inherited plenty of her mum's ability, according to Hamilton trainer David Greene, who will saddle the unbeaten Tavistock filly in Saturday's Listed Trevor & Corallie Eagle Memorial (1500m) at Te Aroha.
Greene prepared Just Dance's dam Stolen Dance for much of her career, including a win in the Gr.3 Eagle Technology Stakes (1600m) at the corresponding meeting in 2015, and said the legacy was strong with the filly.
"This filly is a lot like her mum. She's got that same nervous energy, though she's probably not as highly-strung as Stolen Dance was," Greene said.
"She doesn't like being fussed over but she's a good eater and she's really professional in her trackwork. Let's hope she can get to the level that her mum did.
"It's a really enjoyable aspect of what we do - training horses out of mares we've trained before, particularly stable favourites like Stolen Dance was. You get a bit of a buzz as soon as they come into the stable and they become stable favourites pretty quickly. "
As a daughter of Gr.1 Thorndon Mile (1600m) winner Stolen Dance, Just Dance is already a valuable broodmare prospect and Greene is keen to enhance that by securing black-type for her pedigree page through a top-three finish at stakes level.
"Ticking off a bit of black-type is the first goal, so if she happened to run in the first three on Saturday, we might be able to be a bit more conservative and go straight into an Eight Carat with four weeks between races," Greene said, referencing the Gr.2 Jamieson Park Eight Carat Classic (1600m) at Ellerslie on Boxing Day.
"If she ran well without being in the first three, we might look at going down to Awapuni for the Eulogy Stakes (1600m, Group Three on December 11) and try and tick off the black-type there.
"She's working towards the Derby or the Oaks long-term. She'll get a mile and a half and I think she'll be pretty deadly once she gets to 2000m plus."
Just Dance was an impressive 2-½ length winner at Te Rapa on debut earlier this month, beating home subsequent winners Rekindled Express, Miss Madison and Giacomo.
"She's taken a lot of improvement out of the run and it's been hard to fault what she's done since," Greene said.
"We had hoped to have her up a bit earlier in the spring but she was set back with the wet tracks. It was a really good run for a horse having her first start.
"She's always shown plenty of gate speed in her trials but she got a bit further than what I thought she would. She had to work her way around some traffic problems there at one stage but she was professional enough to overcome it.
"Her last 100m was really impressive, just the way she ran away from them, and the form has stacked up from the horses in behind her as well."
TAB bookmakers have made Just Dance a $10 fifth favourite in a market headed by last-start Gr.2 Sarten Memorial (1400m) winner Pareanui Bay at $2.70 and La Crique at $3.60.
"There's a couple of pretty decent horses in there to be coming up against at just her second start," Greene said.
"We're not worried about the quality she's facing but sometimes in these small three-year-old fields, they only go along at moderate speed and then sprint off the corner, which wouldn't suit her. She's definitely more of a staying prospect so if they go quick on Saturday and it turns into a grind, then she'll be flying the last furlong."
Greene will also produce promising filly Marcella, a last-start Te Aroha winner, and last-start Te Rapa runner-up Finest Wine on the same programme.
"While Marcella is a little green with her racing manners, she's got black-type potential as well. Facing the older horses in 65 grade on a Saturday for the first time can be tricky at times for an inexperienced horse but the talent is definitely there," he said.
"She might be another one that if she performed well on Saturday, we could look to go down to the Eulogy with as well.
"Finest Wine is overdue. She's racing well and she's probably the best winning chance for the stable on Saturday."
While Greene managed to quinella last week's Gr.3 Counties Cup (2100m) at Te Rapa, he's likely to have neither contest next month's Gr.3 SkyCity Hamilton Waikato Cup (2400m) after an injury concern with Justamaiz and a planned break for Judy's Song.
"Justamaiz has a little bit of heat in a leg so he's having a few quiet days at the moment and while it's not definite, it's looking like he'll have to go out for a spell. The Waikato Cup is looking questionable at this stage," Greene said.
"The Counties Cup was a target race for Judy's Song. She'll have a short break now and come back to target some of those fillies and mares races in the autumn, the Travis Stakes (2000m, Group Two at Te Rapa in April) as the main goal."
White Noise turns it up at Otaki
White Noise was the least fancied runner of Murray Baker and Andrew Forsman’s pair in the Gr.3 Lucia Valentina Wellington Stakes (1600m) at Otaki on Thursday, but somebody forgot to tell the grey gelding that.
The son of El Roca was sent out an $11.90 prospect and ran away to a dominant win in the three-year-old feature.
Fairly away from the gates, jockey Ryan Elliot elected to settle off the pace with White Noise, while stablemate Turn The Ace took the opposite approach, with jockey Lisa Allpress taking the stakes winner forward early to take a front-running role.
The pressure told on Turn The Ace, who was collared by favourite Unusual Culture soon after turning for home, however, the stable’s chances were not spent, with White Noise breezing on by to win by three-quarters of a length to Unusual Culture, with a further 1-3/4 lengths back to Barrow Boy in third.
Forsman was delighted with the winning efforts of White Noise and admitted to being shocked to see the market discount his chances ahead of the race, with the gelding having won two of his previous three starts.
“He has always shown quite a lot of ability, just at times he hasn’t quite put it all together. He just struggled in that bad track at Tauranga last start (when finishing sixth),” Forsman said.
“I was surprised (by his odds). I thought he would be one of the favourites. You had to forgive him that last start but outside of that his form has been pretty good.
“We decided to put the blinkers on, we knew it was going to be a quicker track and they would run a long a bit and just hoped it would sharpen him up, and he did it quite easily I thought in the finish.”
No solid plans have been made with the gelding, who holds a nomination for the Gr.1 New Zealand Derby (2400m) at Ellerslie on March.
“We haven’t really made any plans,” Forsman said. “He has been up a while. He is going to be due a freshen-up at some point and that might be now.
“We will just have a think about it, talk with the owners and see what they want to do and come up with a plan in the next day or two.”
White Noise is one of four stakes winners for Westbury Stud stallion El Roca, who was represented by impressive Group Two winner Lucky Patch in Hong Kong on Sunday.
While pleased with White Noise’s efforts, Forsman admitted to being disappointed with Turn The Ace’s run.
“It was very disappointing,” he said. “He did a little bit of work to get across to the front, I thought he was entitled to do a little bit more, he just gave it away quite quickly.
“He is a big horse and whether he is trying to fill into his frame at the moment. He will appreciate a good spell now and hopefully he will come back better in the autumn.”
Double celebrations for Rose 'N' Power camp
Cambridge trainers Fred and Lindsay Cornege celebrated a personal milestone in style on Thursday when their game mare Rose 'N' Power landed the Listed Courtesy Ford Levin Stakes (1200m) at Otaki.
The four-year-old mare has now won four races in succession and ticked the black-type box, giving further cause for celebration for the Corneges who were celebrating their 43rd wedding anniversary.
Noted on-pacer Rose 'N' Power wasn’t as quickly away as usual but mustered to sit behind the leaders and dug deep under a vigorous Matt Cameron ride to eventually get the better of Romantic Lady, with Stumpy in third.
“I knew she would be in the money and realistically when you have got a mare, the black-type is more important than the money,” Fred Cornege said.
“I wasn’t surprised that she dug in again halfway down the straight and put her head in front because she just doesn’t lie down.
“She is one of those horses where jockeys ride to beat her rather than trying to run their own race. When they do that, more often than not, they’re out the back door.”
Cornege, who likened the mare’s racing style to recently retired stable star Pop Star Princess, said he was pleased to see the mare take a trail after beginning only moderately.
“I was quite happy with that because it is easy to turn a horse into a one-dimensional galloper and she doesn’t have to get to the front, but it is just her gate speed that generally gets her to the lead,” he said.
Bred by long-time friend Liz Pollard and Gloria Graydon, the Corneges share in the ownership of the daughter of Power, whose granddam is the Group Three winner Rosetti Bay, who won eight races.
“She came to me from another stable and she had a bit of history,” Cornege said.
“I have got to give Derek Satherley most of the credit for turning her around. There was a time when she didn’t have too many tomorrows. He did most of the work on her at home on the farm and during the first lockdown last year.
“She was very explosive, and she still can be, but this is the first time we have been able to race her outside of the Waikato bubble where we can actually handle her.
“I have a local Waikato Transport company and I do all of Liz’s work and we were hunting mates from 40 or 50 odd years ago. We are on the same wave-length when it comes to horse philosophies and that is how we got involved in the horse.”
Cornege said he and wife Lindsay were going to toast their anniversary with a tiki tour catching up with friends and family in Woodville and Dannevirke.
“We stayed last night and the horse is going home on the transporter,” he said.
“We only have four or five in work and I have put them in the paddock and my daughter is looking after them. It is the first time we have managed to get away in a long time, it has been good.”
The bar will be raised again for Rose 'N' Power who holds a nomination for the Gr.1 Sistema Railway (1200m) on New Year’s Day at Ellerslie.
“With the new whip rules and what have you, it really doesn’t hurt to have a horse that runs on the pace,” Cornege said.
“We won’t run her again now. She is paid up for the Railway and given she ran a tick over 1:08 today, I think she deserves her chance in the Railway.”
Exciting juvenile scores on debut
Cambridge trainer Lauren Brennan is excited about the prospects of juvenile Zaher after his gutsy win on debut in the Levin TAB & Sports Bar (1000m) at Otaki on Thursday.
The Proisir gelding was positive out of the gates for jockey Matthew Cameron to sit outside Lord Cosmos, with the pair setting a solid tempo throughout.
The Jamie Richards-trained runner looked to have the field beaten turning for home when he kicked clear by a length, however, Cameron asked his charge to improve and he duly responded, quickening late to grab Lord Cosmos on the line to win by a long head, with a further 5-1/2 lengths back to Canufeelit in third.
Brennan was pleased with her gelding’s run, particularly the fight he showed in the closing stages.
“I thought halfway down the straight that Lord Cosmos was going to take it out, but he dug deep and put his head down and ears back. He has got a lovely big stride on him and Matt timed it right,” she said.
“I have liked him for a while. I was quietly confident but you never know with two-year-olds having their first start.
“I was a little bit nervous, but I was a bit relieved when the favourite (Time Flies) was scratched this morning.
“He is still a bit green and has a bit to learn but he showed he has guts and grit. He is a lovely strong two-year-old.”
Brennan said she will now wait and see how Zaher pulls up after the race before making any immediate plans with him.
“He has got his two-year-old win now so whether we put him out for a couple of weeks now and bring him back we will just let him tell us,” she said.
“We will just see how he pulls up from this.”
Meanwhile, Brennan is looking forward to lining up consistent gelding Packing Rockstar in the Geoff Brindley Memorial 1400 at Te Aroha on Saturday.
The Fastnet Rock six-year-old was runner-up in the Gr.3 Sweynesse Stakes (1215m) behind Tavi Mac last month before placing in a 1025m trial at Taupo.
While Brennan would have liked to have headed to the races with Packing Rockstar since then, she said inclement weather had put a stop to that.
“It is a while between runs, which isn’t ideal, but through weather conditions we have had to scratch him a few times,” she said.
“I was really happy with his trial, he relaxed nicely and hit the line well. He was supposed to run that week but we had to trial him instead.
“Whatever he does on Saturday he will benefit from and will be better next time.”
Packing Rockstar has some big targets in the New Year, including the Gr.1 Railway (1200m) at Ellerslie on New Year’s Day, a race he finished fourth in earlier this year.
“We will head the Railway-Telegraph route and hopefully we can get some results with him, he is so consistent and tries every time, that’s all you can ask,” Brennan said.
“He has been so close in a lot of those stakes races and it would be nice to pull one off at some stage over the summer.”