New Zealand news briefs

Venue change a positive for classy Kiwi mare

The decision by Racing Queensland to transfer Saturday’s Doomben 10,000 meeting to Eagle Farm is viewed as a positive by Matamata trainer Mark Walker who will saddle leading contender Entriviere in the weight-for-age 1200m feature.

Following recent inclement weather and a forecast for further heavy rainfall, the Brisbane Racing Club meeting has been transferred to the better draining larger circuit at Eagle Farm, whereas there was the potential for Doomben to be called off.

Walker, who hasn’t missed a beat since again assuming control of Te Akau’s Matamata operation following the departure of Hong Kong-bound Jamie Richards, will travel back to Queensland this weekend to saddle Group One winner Entriviere as the five-year-old daughter of Tavistock looks to add an Australian Group One to her already impressive CV. 

“I think the transfer to Eagle Farm is a definite positive,” Walker said. “Running her fresh-up on a bottomless track at Doomben wasn’t going to be that great.”

Walker is pleased with the mare who last raced in early February when second to Levante in the Gr.1 BCD Group Sprint (1400m) at Te Rapa and prior to departing for Queensland Entriviere had two soft trials in her homeland.

“She had an exhibition gallop last Saturday at the Gold Coast after race one and then travelled up and had a gallop at Eagle Farm on Tuesday, so she is pretty ready,” Walker said.

“We wanted to have her pretty cherry ripe for her first up run and then we will decide what to do with her after that.

“The barrier draw (15 of 15) was a bit of a kick in the guts but at the end of the day if it is a rain-affected track then by that time of the day it may be the best place to be.”

Walker said the Gr.1 Tatts Tiara (1400m) at Eagle Farm on June 25 was another race circled, with a likely start in between to be determined.

Stable rider Opie Bosson will be in Brisbane this weekend to ride the patiently-handled mare, who is bidding to bring up Walker’s third Group One winner since returning from Singapore less than two months ago.

“It is fantastic to have Opie on because he is a proven Group One jockey in Australia and he knows the horses so well, it is a big advantage,” Walker said.

“It would be like a fairy tale to win an Australian Group One so quickly since returning, but they don’t give them away.

“The Queensland carnival used to be a bit easier in the past but it is not anymore, it is virtually as good as Sydney or Melbourne.”

Meanwhile, closer to home Walker will have a handful of stakes runners at Rotorua on Saturday where the track is a Soft7, including Leaderboard in the Gr.3 Campbell Infrastructure Rotorua Cup (2200m) and Mai Tai and Shepherd's Delight in the Gr.3 Rydges Rotorua Stakes (1400m).

“Leaderboard was very good in the Hawke’s Bay Cup (Listed, 2200m) last start where he was well-ridden but just found one better on the day,” Walker said.

“The wetter the better for him but it looks like the track will dry. This will be his final run of the season and he will go out and be prepared for the New Zealand Cup (Gr.3, 3200m).

“Mai Tai is the highest rated horse but the barrier (19) doesn’t make it that easy and it is a pretty even field.

“Shepherd’s Delight, she ran such a good race for second in the 1000 Guineas (Gr.1, 1600m) on a wet track so she does go better with a bit of cut in the track.”

Walker said that despite the unseasonably dry weather in New Zealand, the stable would still be quieter in terms of runners over the final few months of the season, as has become the norm at Te Akau. 

“There is a big team for Matamata on Friday but it is our local track and they only have to walk across so a number will go out after that. You would think it will be wet from here on in.” 

Wheeler plotting another Australian jumps raid

John Wheeler has enjoyed phenomenal success in Australia’s prestige jumping events and the New Plymouth trainer is keen on another winter trip across the Tasman.

He has multiple victories in the Great Eastern Steeplechase (4950m) and the Grand Annual Steeplechase (5500m) while major jumping victories in Melbourne include the Australian Grand National Steeplechase (4500m) and the Hiskens Steeplechase (3700m).

Wheeler is now eyeing another tilt at the Grand National with rising star Chief Sequoyah, who produced an impressive display to win on debut over the big fences in the Ken Duncan Racing Open Steeplechase (3800m) at Wanganui today.

The Redwood seven-year-old settled a clear last under a patient ride from Sam O’Malley, who urged the gelding forward 1000m from home.

They were in front at the penultimate flight, cleared the last effortlessly, and went to the line full of running to score by 4-1/2 lengths.

“He didn’t make a mistake and he’s a good jumper. I was getting him ready for the Grand Annual at Warrnambool, but our tracks were that hard he was starting to feel them,” said part-owner Wheeler.

“I thought I’d leave him and once we get a bit of rain I’d give him a run. I’ll probably look at going to Melbourne with him in a month’s time and look at the Grand National, that’s in July so I’ve got a bit of time but I won’t be asking him to do too much before then.”

Wheeler went close to a winning jumps double today with Quaff, also in the hands of O’Malley, finishing runner-up in the Wanganui Function Centre Open Hurdle (3000m).

“Quaff will improve significantly, he over-raced a bit and was fresh and still quite big in condition so I was really pleased with his run. He’ll probably go to Melbourne as well for some hurdle races.”

Chief Sequoyah won three times over the smaller fences last winter, including the Sydenham Hurdles (3100m) having joined Wheeler’s team after winning two on the flat for Cambridge trainer Stephen Marsh, who remains in the ownership group.

Another former Marsh-prepared flat winner Oso Savvy is also with Wheeler to prepare for a jumping career.

“I’m very happy with him and he jumps super. He looks like a good horse, I just had a bit of trouble with him,” Wheeler said.

“He’s not unsound or anything, I think he was maybe a bit jarred up after the summer racing and he is just coming right now as the tracks soften, he’s got no blemishes.”

While Wheeler will be firming up Victorian jumping plans for Chief Sequoyah and Quaff in the coming weeks, he will also keep an eye on the progress of his former charge Le Villi.

The Puccini filly won two of her five starts for Wheeler and finished sixth in the Gr.1 New Zealand Oaks (2400m) before Australian Bloodstock purchased her.

“My number one owner Tommy Carroll owned her outright and she’s a pretty good horse so we’ll be keeping an eye on her over there,” Wheeler said.

Le Villi finished seventh in the Gr.1 Australian Oaks (2400m) in her first appearance for Newcastle trainer Kris Lees and is currently a $27 chance for the Gr.1 Queensland Oaks (2200m). 

Pike’s Queensland Raid begins in earnest at Eagle Farm

Tony Pike will have an imposing line-up at Eagle Farm this weekend with several of his Kiwi raiders stepping out for the first time in the Sunshine State. 

The Cambridge trainer will have a two-pronged attack in the Gr.2 Spirit Of Boom Classic (1200m) with promising juveniles Dimaggio Joe and Slipper Island.

Dimaggio Joe won on debut at Hastings last month and will be out to maintain his perfect track record on Saturday, while Slipper Island finished runner-up on debut before winning at Trentham in March. 

“Dimaggio Joe is still a work in progress, but I was really happy with the way he worked on Tuesday morning on the course proper at Eagle Farm,” Pike told Brisbane Racing Club.

“All three of the two-year-olds that we have here have all got plenty of ability and plenty of upside, it will just be interesting to see which one puts their foot forward.

“Based on his work this morning we will probably run him on Saturday.

“It is a big jump up in class but I think he is a very promising horse. It gives him a chance, if he does put his hand up, to get to the Sires’ (Gr.2, 1400m) and JJ Atkins (Gr.1, 1600m).

“He has got a lovely, big, long action and being by Almanzor I think once he does get up in trip it is really going to suit.

“Saturday might be a touch sharp for him but if he can get near the placings on Saturday he will only improve when he gets up to the seven and eight furlongs.”

Pike was also buoyant about the future of Slipper Island.

“He is a really nice horse as well. He is a very laidback colt and it is hard to get a line on him in his track work,” he said.

“Mark Du Plessis rode him in track work for me this morning and he was quite impressed. He said he got a little bit lost on the outside there at Eagle Farm but was very strong late and through the line.

“He is another one that will suit when he gets up in trip. He has definitely shown us enough at home to be competitive on Saturday.”

Pike will also have double representation in the Gr.3 Rough Habit Plate (2143m) with Ruach and Tutukaka, who won the Listed Tattersall’s Life Member Stakes (1830m) at the Queensland carnival last year.

“Tutukaka had only had the one start before he came over here last year,” Pike said. 

“He was going to go to the paddock and come back at three in New Zealand but we did spot that race and it was going to be perfect for him. It was a great result.

“He went to Melbourne in the spring and was still a bit immature. He won the Geelong Classic (Listed, 2200m) and he ran a solid sixth in the VRC Derby (Gr.1, 2500m). He was just getting towards the end of his prep at that stage.

“He will improve off Saturday’s run, he has only had the one run back after a short break. 

“By the time the Derby (Gr.1, 2400m) comes, I think that he is going to be more than competitive.”

Ruach will race for the first time under Pike’s care on Saturday. 

“I brought him over for a good friend of mine, Ben Foote (previous trainer). He has been well-performed and in some of the mile-2000m races back in New Zealand,” Pike said.

“Saturday will probably be his biggest test, but his form in New Zealand suggested that if he has travelled well he can be competitive in a race like that.”

Pike is also looking after Group One performer Babylon Berlin for Foote, and she too will have her first run under Pike’s name in the Listed Bright Shadow (1200m) on Saturday.

“She is one of our top four or five sprinters and surprising enough the Aussies always bag the New Zealand sprint form but it has been pretty solid this year and we have had some quality sprinters back home,” Pike said.

“She is a very fast mare and has raced against some of those better horses and is definitely not far off them.

“Back to fillies and mares grade on Saturday, I think she will be very hard to beat.

“We might try and stretch her out to a Tatt’s Tiara later on if she is really flying, but the 1400m might be a bit of a query. 

“She handles any sort of ground as well, which is going to be an advantage.”

She will be joined by another temporary Pike runner in Letzbeglam.

“She has come over from Cambridge Stud, I brought her over for (trainer) Lance Noble,” Pike said. 

“She won fresh-up after a long break at Pukekohe last start and probably needed the run.

“Lance was really happy with the way she has travelled over and she has definitely tightened up since she has been here. 

“Whether she can get back to her best two-year-old form is an unknown, but she will run in the Bright Shadow on Saturday and she will be better once she gets to six and seven furlongs.”