New Zealand news briefs

Pitmans leading the way in the south

By Joshua Smith LOVERACING.NZ News Desk

Riccarton trainers Michael and Matthew Pitman continued to enjoy a successful week on their local polytrack on Thursday, adding another win to their tally courtesy of Motiontime in the Riccarton Park Function Centre Three-Year-Old (1400m).

“She ended up getting a nice cushy run and probably dictated the race even though she was sitting in second spot,” Michael Pitman said. “She has done a great job that filly.”

It was a rare double-header meeting on Riccarton’s synthetic track this week, with Wednesday’s meeting scheduled following the abandonment of racing at Phar Lap Raceway on Sunday, and Pitman said it shows the importance Riccarton’s polytrack over the winter months.

“It has got its place in racing,” he said. “It is a winter alternative and I appreciate them running two days of races (on the surface). I think there was $107,000 in stake money distributed on Wednesday that normally wouldn’t be made available, and that is appreciated.”

Motiontime’s victory also brought up the stable’s 50th win of the season, putting them 16 wins clear on the South Island Trainers’ Premiership ahead of fellow Riccarton trainer Andrew Carston.

The father-and-son training partnership has particularly taken delight out of seeing the progression of a number of their runners this term.

“The improvement of Mystic Park, Star Ballot and Charbano has been a highlight,” Pitman said.

“Third Decree has gone from winning a maiden race at Kumara to running second in a Great Easter (Listed, 1400m) over a distance which we thought may have been too much for her, but she went well.

“Our team has been going really well all season, we are really proud of them.”

Pitman is hoping the stable can further add to their 50-win haul this season, with Moitiontime set to return to Riccarton’s synthetic track to try and qualify for a lucrative polytrack target during Riccarton’s Grand National Festival of Racing in August.

“Motiontime gets another opportunity to run in a set weights and penalties 1400m race on the poly, so that is where she will head,” he said. “We are trying to qualify her for that $100,000 race on the middle day of the Grand National Carnival.” 

Lord Spencer seeking Waikato Hurdle crown

By Joshua Smith, LOVERACING.NZ News Desk

Wanganui trainer JJ Rayner will head to Te Rapa on Saturday with exciting jumper Lord Spencer to tackle the highly competitive Fairview Motors Waikato Hurdle (3200m).

The six-year-old son of Zed has shown a lot of promise in his jumping career to date, winning one and placing in his six of his hurdle starts to date, but he will face his stiffest task this weekend.

He will be met by a small but select field, including last year’s Grand National Hurdles (4200m) winner Berry The Cash and Great Northern Hurdle (4200m) victor Nedwin, who will be vying to defend his crown in the Waikato Hurdle.

“Even though it is a small field, it is a very good field,” Rayner said. “We have got Stephen Karnicnik back on as Lemmy Douglas opted to ride at Trentham on the flat. Stephen rode him most of last season and knows him well.

“It is a nice field and he is just stepping up to that grade. We are hoping for a nice run.

“He went a really good race last time (runner-up in Manawatu Hurdle), I was really pleased. Hawera (two starts back) really his first go in open company. It is a big ask to step up, there are not too many intermediate hurdles around.”

Rayner said Lord Spencer will likely follow the prestige hurdle circuit, with the ultimate aim being a trip to Riccarton in August.

“We will just get through the race and follow the main ones. Our main aim is the Grand National down south, he won there last year in the 0-1 win hurdle, so he obviously likes the track down there,” she said.

Meanwhile, Rayner will be keeping a close eye on Trentham while she is in Hamilton with Lord Spencer, as Hacksaw Ridge aims to get his winter campaign back on track in the Baxters Catering 1600.

“I have got my cousin, Paul Belsham, going to Trentham with Hacksaw Ridge for me, so he is back on the job,” she said.

“It is quite a tidy field for a 75 rating, but he is really well and is doing things right, and I am expecting a really nice run from him.”

Hacksaw Ridge has had three unplaced runs this time in, including a fifth placing in the Listed AGC Training Stakes (1600m) at Wanganui last start.

“He got held up quite a bit,” Rayner said. “He didn’t get a lot of room in the straight and we couldn’t ride him out. He was still wanting to finish on, so I was really happy with it.”

The six-year-old gelding will be ridden by one-kilogram claiming apprentice Ashvin Mudhoo on Saturday from barrier six.

“He goes well for Ashvin and we are hoping his one kilogram claim will help a little bit,” Rayner said.

Hacksaw Ridge is also on a path towards Riccarton in August.

“All going well, he will head to Christchurch for the Winter Cup (Gr.3, 1600m).” 

Wexford’s emerging stars to shine on both sides of the Tasman

By Richard Edmunds, LOVERACING.NZ News Desk

Lance O’Sullivan and Andrew Scott are gearing up for a big day on Saturday, with a $3 million milestone looming large on home soil while classy three-year-old Geriatrix takes on a Group Three assignment in Brisbane.

O’Sullivan and Scott have enjoyed an outstanding season in New Zealand, sitting in third place on the trainers’ premiership with 59 wins. That is easily a new career-best tally for a partnership that dates back to the 2013-14 season, and their runners have earned a total of $2.95 million so far this term.

Those earnings have more than doubled the Matamata partnership’s previous best total of $1.42 million in the 2020-21 season. Now they have $3 million in their sights, and they can close in on that milestone with a talented five-horse team at Te Rapa on Saturday.

Commanding the most attention in that line-up is rising star Little Bit Of Love, who the TAB rates a $2.40 favourite to extend his winning streak to five in Saturday’s Bayonne Construction Mile (1600m).

The four-year-old recorded a win, a fifth, a seventh and a ninth from his first four starts between December and March, but then he flicked a switch in the autumn and never looked back.

Little Bit Of Love has won all of his last four in succession, stringing together three wins at Te Rapa in April and May and adding another at Pukekohe on June 1.

The son of Time Test returns to Te Rapa on Saturday – where he is unbeaten in three starts – and will be ridden by Masa Hashizume, who has guided him to three wins from four rides.

“He’s just a real racehorse and has found a rich vein of form through the last couple of months,” O’Sullivan said. “It’s been very pleasing to see him progress the way he has.

“Saturday is going to be a big test for him. Going up into open company is always a big step and is never easy for any horse making its way up through the grades. But he’s handled everything that we’ve thrown at him so far, and hopefully that continues this week.

“Te Rapa is a track that he seems to get around particularly well, so it’ll be good to get him back there again on Saturday. Horses that race well at Te Rapa generally tend to hold their form when they return there.

“We’re looking forward to stepping him up to 1600m. We’ve really just been doing maintenance work with him since that last start win a couple of weeks ago, but he’s certainly doing very well at the moment.”

O’Sullivan and Scott will also tackle Saturday’s other open handicap, where last-start winner Highlighter meets a highly competitive line-up in the Mike Stent Decorators Sprint (1200m).

Highlighter has previously won twice at Te Rapa, and apprentice jockey Donovan Cooper’s 3kg claim will reduce her impost to 51kg. The TAB rates her a $5 equal third favourite alongside Johny Johny in a market headed by Babylon Berlin ($3.20) and Caitlyns Wish ($4.20).

Later in the afternoon, Canny Man and Silver Javelin are rated $7.50 and $8 chances respectively in the McKenna King Litigation (1300m), while Te Atatu Memphis is a $21 outsider for the final race on the Te Rapa card.

Across the Tasman, Geriatrix will attempt to end his Queensland campaign on a high when he lines up in the Gr.3 Gunsynd Classic (1600m).

The Almanzor colt won three of his nine starts in New Zealand, then made an immediate impact in Brisbane with a powerful come-from-behind win in his Australian debut on June 1.

“We’ve been delighted with everything he’s done since that win at Eagle Farm a couple of weeks ago,” O’Sullivan said. “He seems to be on target for Saturday.

“After beating older horses over 1400m last time, we think that the Gunsynd – up over 1600m and back against his own age – is an ideal target to have a go at with him. It’s going to be a very tidy field though and no walk in the park. It’ll be the toughest test of his career so far.

“But based on his form and the way that he’s been working, we think he deserves this opportunity. It’s a nice race to have a shot at in his last start before we put him out for a good break.” 

Mary Shan ready for Australian debut

By Richard Edmunds, LOVERACING.NZ News Desk

After highly creditable performances in seven Group races during the New Zealand season, Mary Shan has an opportunity to prove herself across the Tasman in Saturday’s Gr.3 Gunsynd Classic (1600m) at Eagle Farm.

The Andrew Forsman-trained filly has travelled to Australia in winning form, having romped home by five and a half lengths in a three-year-old race at Pukekohe on May 25.

That was Mary Shan’s first appearance outside of black-type company since October. In between times the daughter of Almanzor finished second in the Gr.2 Soliloquy Stakes (1400m), fifth in the Gr.1 New Zealand 1000 Guineas (1600m), second in the Gr.2 Eight Carat Classic (1600m), fourth in the Gr.1 Levin Classic (1600m), fifth in the Gr.2 David & Karyn Ellis Fillies’ Classic (2000m), sixth in the Gr.3 Cambridge Breeders’ Stakes (1200m) and fourth in the Gr.3 Rotorua Stakes (1400m).

It was the fifth placing in the Fillies’ Classic at Te Rapa in February that prompted Forsman to consider the Queensland Winter Carnival.

“We got her up to 2000m for that race at Te Rapa and realised that she’s not really suited to those longer distances at this point of her career,” the Cambridge trainer said.

“That’s when Queensland started to come on to her radar a little bit. We decided to give her a little freshen up, then bring her back with couple of runs over shorter distances and see where we got to.

“That last-start win at Pukekohe was a nice confidence-booster for her. She’d been a bit unlucky in the Cambridge Breeders’ Stakes and Rotorua Stakes in those first two runs back, so it was good to see her get back into winning form that day. It gave us the confidence to take her over to Brisbane and have a go at some black type.

“She handled the travel really well and has thrived since then, which often happens when they come from our cold New Zealand winter into the warmer climate at the Gold Coast. She looks great.”

Mary Shan will be ridden by Tyler Schiller and has drawn gate 14 in a full field of 18.

“That’s the frustrating part,” Forsman said. “With the racing style that she has, she probably would have appreciated a better draw. She’s going to have to get back and give a head start to some talented horses. But we couldn’t be happier with how she’s looking leading into the race.”

The Gunsynd Classic is worth A$200,000 and might be Mary Shan’s only appearance during the Queensland Winter Carnival.

“We could think about giving her one more run, but I’m mindful that she’s had quite a long season,” Forsman said. “So it’s possible she’ll be ready for a break after this. We’ll get this race out of the way first and then make up our minds.”

Back home, Forsman will be represented by four runners at Te Rapa on Saturday including course specialist Turn The Ace in the Bayonne Construction Mile (1600m).

The Turn Me Loose gelding has had 12 starts at the Hamilton track for six wins, compared to two wins from his other 12 appearances at different venues.

Turn The Ace was a last-start sixth placegetter behind Belardo Boy in the weight-for-age Listed AGC Training Stakes (1600m) at Wanganui.

“Getting him back to Te Rapa is clearly a big help for him, but I’m just a bit worried about how wet the track might be this weekend,” Forsman said. “His stats on heavy tracks look okay on paper, but these days I think he has a preference for slightly better footing in and around that soft range.”

Amazing Grace is an intriguing runner in the Richardsons Real Estate (2100m). The blue-blooded daughter of Tavistock and Bazelle made a big impression with two wins from her first five starts in 2022, but then spent more than a year on the sidelines before resuming with an eighth over 1400m at Pukekohe on June 1.

“She was off the scene for quite a while and definitely would have needed that run,” Forsman said. “She’s taken some good improvement out of that and will probably do the same again this weekend. I’d expect her to be getting closer to peak fitness next time out.” 

Pokuru Gold shoots for four from four

By Richard Edmunds, LOVERACING.NZ News Desk

Te Akau trainers Mark Walker and Sam Bergerson have a small but select team entered for New Zealand’s two race meetings on Saturday, with all of their three starters looming as key chances.

The premiership-leading stable’s day kicks off in the opening race at Trentham, the TAB Odds Surge Every Race at Trentham 3YO (1000m). Walker and Bergerson’s unbeaten Pokuru Gold is rated a $1.60 chance to add a fourth win to his unblemished record.

The son of Darci Brahma made a big impression in his only start last spring, scoring a dominant front-running victory by three and a half lengths in a 970m maiden race at Cambridge in September.

After more than eight months off the scene, Pokuru Gold returned to action at Te Rapa on May 18 and again scored a smart win by two and a half lengths.

The Ian Farrelly homebred made it three-from-three at Pukekohe on June 1, overcoming a fierce late challenge from Rareza to win by a long neck.

Apprentice jockey Niranjan Parmar will take the ride on Pokuru Gold at Trentham on Saturday, reducing his impost from 58.5kg to 57.5kg. Pokuru Gold has proven himself in testing ground, so Walker and Bergerson are unfazed by Trentham’s Heavy10 track.

“He’s not a big horse, but he’s a real trier,” Walker said. “He’s really impressed us with all of those three wins.

“He’s dropping back from 1200 to 1000m for this race at Trentham on Saturday, so we want to keep him on the fresh side and haven’t done very much with him in between times. But he’s looking well and seems to be going into the race in good order.

“We’re not too sure yet how much more we’re going to do with him in this preparation. A lot of that is going to depend on how he goes on Saturday.”

Walker and Bergerson will also be represented by two leading contenders at Te Rapa on Saturday.

Devoted was beaten by a long neck by Ima Wonder in his first steeplechase start at Te Aroha on June 3, and he is rated a $1.60 chance to go one better in Saturday’s Waikato/BOP Racehorse Owners Association Maiden Steeplechase (3900m).

Later in the afternoon, Freeze Frame is a $4 second favourite behind Little Bit Of Love for the Bayonne Construction Mile (1600m).

Freeze Frame has a strong record at Te Rapa, where his eight previous starts have produced two wins and three placings.

The son of Vadamos has lined up at the Hamilton track in all of his last three races, starting with a second placing behind Sumi on April 14. He returned there two weeks later and turned the tables on Sumi, also beating the next-start Gr.3 Rotorua Stakes winner Karman Line (1400m). In his only start since then, Freeze Frame was a close and strong-finishing fourth over 1300m behind Aris Aris, Dusty Road and Turn The Ace.

Saturday’s step up to 1600m is a query for Freeze Frame, who has had only one previous attempt at that distance. He reared at the start that day and finished 10th in a 12-horse field at Tauranga on February 11.

But Walker believes that, with the assistance of a gear change, the talented four-year-old can make his presence felt over the mile on Saturday.

“He goes really well at Te Rapa, so it’s always good to find races for him there,” Walker said. “We’re keen to see how he goes up over a bit of ground, so we’ll take the blinkers off for this race and that should help him relax. The way he’s been finding the line over 1300m and 1400m gives us a bit of confidence that he should cope with going a bit further.”