Surely Sacred boosts Derby prospects

Surely Sacred (Vinnie Colgan) coming further into Vodafone NZ Derby contention with a solid win in today’s Avondale Guineas, beating In A Twinkling (inner).

Lightly-raced Cambridge three-year-old Surely Sacred boosted his prospects in the Gr.1 Vodafone New Zealand Derby (2400m) in a fortnight when he scored handsomely in the Gr.2 Schweppes Avondale Guineas (2100m) at Ellerslie today.

Spruiked as a Derby prospect after winning the Gr.2 Auckland Guineas (1600m) on New Year’s Day in just his third career start, the Rock ‘n’ Pop gelding followed up with a tidy effort for fifth in the Karaka Million 3YO Classic (1600m) late last month.

That effort saw him installed as second favourite for today’s traditional Derby lead-up and he didn’t let his supporters down with a powerful staying effort to secure a narrow but impressive victory.

Settled in midfield by rider Vinnie Colgan, Surely Sacred lobbed along nicely as leader The Chosen One set a steady pace. The attacks came at the 800m mark with In A Twinkling making a lightning move to dispute the pace as the tempo quickened.

Not to be caught napping, Colgan sent Surely Sacred on a searching wide run and he hit the front shortly after straightening before fending off the challenge of In A Twinkling by a head at the line with Vernanme running on strongly for third.

“It was a good, tough win as they put the pressure on pretty early,” trainer Tony Pike said.

“Vinnie set him alight pretty early and he has hit the front early enough.

“He (Colgan) probably left a little bit of juice in the tank, knowing he had already qualified for the Derby, and he will improve off that again.

“Just the way he travelled up to them today was nice to see. He wasn’t in any trouble and I can’t wait for two weeks’ time.”

Pike was pleased with the effort by Colgan, who showed plenty of initiative to set out after the leaders at just the right time.

“Vinnie has elected to get on his bike and put him into the race which was probably the winning of it,” he said.

“He possibly got there too soon, but he will improve and it would be nice to get a second Derby win.”

Pike collected his first New Zealand Derby title in 2016 with Rangipo and believes Surely Sacred compares favourably.

“This horse is probably more of a genuine stayer, although he’s still learning whereas Rangipo was the ultimate professional,” Pike said.

“The Derby was his (Rangipo’s) 10th run that season so he was just a real warrior, while this horse has a touch of class on his side.

“He (Surely Sacred) wandered around a little bit when out there on his own today. He did that when he got beaten here in the Great Northern Guineas, where he switched off.

“He nearly did that again today, but they had their chance to run him down and they couldn’t”.

Surely Sacred is a son of five-race winner Not Sure and was purchased by owners Raffles Racing from Waikato Stud’s Premier draft at the 2017 National Yearling Sale.

The victory by Surely Sacred provoked some quick changes to the TAB Fixed Odds market for the New Zealand Derby with Surely Sacred now a clear $3 favourite ahead of Vernanme ($8) for the blue riband event to be held at Ellerslie on March 2. – NZ Racing Desk

Baker-Forsman trio on trial for Derby

Cutadeel, pictured heading to the winner’s stall after winning at Pukekohe last start, rates the top of Murray Baker and Andrew Forsman’s three runners in tomorrow’s Avondale Guineas.

Hall of Fame trainer Murray Baker has made a habit of winning Derbys in recent years and reckons he will have a good idea if he can add another one after Saturday’s Gr.2 Schweppes Avondale Guineas (2100m) at Ellerslie.

 Baker produced Sir Vigilant to win the Wellington Derby (2400m) at Trentham in 1985 then waited another 23 years for Nom Du Jeu’s Gr.1 Australian Derby (2400m) at Randwick. Since then he has had Lion Tamer win the 2010 Gr.1 Victoria Derby (2400m) at Flemington, Mongolian Khan and Vin De Dance win the Gr.1 New Zealand Derby (2400m) at Ellerslie and he has added further Australian Derbys with Dundeel, Mongolian Khan and Jon Snow.

The Cambridge maestro and his training partner Andrew Forsman will saddle Cutadeel, The Chosen One and Bobby Dee in tomorrow’s Avondale Guineas as a final conditioning run for the Gr.1 Vodafone New Zealand Derby on March 2.

“It will be a good race. It’s a strong field and the Avondale Guineas is usually a great form race for the Derby,” Baker said.

TAB bookmakers have installed Cutadeel as a $3.20 favourite for the Avondale Guineas and have the Dundeel gelding as a $6 favourite for the Derby, while The Chosen One (at $21) and Bobby Dee ($41) only rank as outside chances for the Baker-Forsman stable on Saturday.

“Cutadeel has won four out of six and done pretty well the whole way through,” Baker said.

“His last three wins, he’s done it pretty well. He’s left us thinking there’s more to give. He’s fit and healthy and he’ll have his chance.”

The Chosen One is backing up tomorrow after a solid fourth in last Saturday’s Waikato Guineas.

Cutadeel has already won over 2100m at Ellerslie, taking out the Listed 3YO Salver in December before dropping back to 1600m for a comfortable Rating 72 win at Pukekohe over older rivals.

And Baker, who rates Dundeel as the best horse he has trained, believes he has breeding on his side.

“Dundeel is going very well at stud. He’s had five stakes winners already, including a Group One winner in South Africa. He’s ahead of Snitzel at the same stage,” Baker said.

“And Cutadeel is out of a Dylan Thomas mare and he won the Arc Prix de l’Arc de Triomph over 2400m]. I’m sure he’ll stay.”

Baker was satisfied with Savabeel colt The Chosen One’s fourth placing in last Saturday’s Gr.2 Waikato Guineas (2000m) at Te Rapa and felt he would be improved by that middle distance run after previously racing at 1400m.

“He raced like he was a bit on the fresh side, raced keen, and I’d say he probably needed the run. It was a funny race. Positions never changed. But he’s fit and well. He’s thriving at the moment,” Baker said.

“He needed another run before the Derby and this suits against his own age. I expect an improved run. His mother won at 2500m so there’s no reason he won’t stay.”

Zed gelding Bobby Dee rounds out the Baker-Forsman Guineas trio.  “He’s got to shape up a bit, but we think he will stay,” Baker said. – NZ Racing Desk.

Cameron pumped ahead of Marshal ride

Matt Cameron winning the Gr.3 Waikato Cup on Mongolian Marshal. The combination are back in action again tomorrow.

Matt Cameron thinks he has a very good chance of adding another black-type victory to his tally at Ellerslie tomorrow when he rides Cambridge galloper Mongolian Marshall in the Gr.2 Coca-Cola Avondale Cup (2400m).

The in-form hoop will be reunited with the four-year-old gelding after Sydney-based jockey James McDonald rode him in his last-start runner-up effort in the Karaka Cup (2200m) at Ellerslie last month.

Cameron won the Gr.3 Waikato Cup (2400m) aboard the son of High Chaparral in December and is hoping for a repeat performance tomorrow.

“He is a model of consistency. He always seems to be in the first three,” Cameron said.

“His last start was a super run and he’s really finding the line. He has got a bit of a wide draw (barrier 13) to contend with, but he’s a horse that can jump and put himself on the pace.

“He’s got a brilliant turn of foot, so if we can wait for as long as possible and produce him at the right time he should be hitting the line well.”

Mongolian Marshal will carry 54.5kg and Cameron thinks his charge is well placed in the weights, with Chance to Dance and Five to Midnight carrying 59kg.

“The two older horses above him have got to carry weight and the ones below him are carrying a couple of kilos less than him, but I think he comes into the weights perfectly considering his form and the cups races he has won,” Cameron said.

“The 54.5kg is no problem at all. I have been riding at 53kg the last few weeks and I’m 53kg on Rocanto for Stephen Marsh on the weekend, so my weight is really good.”

Cameron is bullish about Rocanto’s chances tomorrow in the Dunstan Feeds 1200 and rates him as one of his better rides on the day, outside Mongolian Marshal in the Avondale Cup and Cutadeel in the Gr.2 Schweppes Avondale Guineas (2100m).

“I like Rocanto, he’s dropping back in grade and has got a light weight,” Cameron said. “I think he is ready to pounce and ready to go a better race than what he has been.”

– NZ Racing Desk

Tough win for Zenvo

Zenvo (Troy Harris) beating Honfleur (inner) in an all-Cambridge finish to the second race at Te Aroha yesterday.

Cambridge mare Zenvo has had a couple of tough runs this campaign, but she’s got a win on the board for her connections.

The Zacinto four-year-old broke through for her first win in her 10th start when taking the Stephen Ralph Racing 1400 at Te Aroha yesterday in the hands of Troy Harris.

But Harris wasn’t about to take any credit for the win after being trapped wide on Zenvo for much of the journey.

‘’It wasn’t my best ride, but she got the job done,’’ said Harris, fresh from a couple of major wins at Te Rapa last Saturday.

“Jason (Waddell) got stuck wide last time, too, and she was up there and came to the end of it. This time I was back and wide and she towed me into it and was too good.”

Zenvo was last in the early stages being improving three-wide a shade and was widest on the home turn then unleashing a strong finish down the outer to score by a half-length from Honfleur, who is trained by Tony Pike.

Evana Rahma, from Shaune Ritchie’s stable, fought on for third ahead of the Murray Baker and Andrew Forsman-trained Oratia with the favourite, The White Queen, from Stephen Marsh’s barn, making it a clean sweep for Cambridge stables.

Zenvo was beaten a long head and a length and a quarter when third to Avondale over 1200m late last month and she picked up two seconds and a third in eight previous starts.

One of those runner-up placings was at Ellerslie 13 months ago and third home that day was Rondinella, who was so impressive when winning at Te Rapa last Saturday.

Zenvo is prepared at Cambridge by Trevor Cruz for owner Ben Kwok.

Gehrig wins but out of Derby

Gehrig (Vinnie Colgan) breaking through for his first win at Te Aroha yesterday.

Roger James doesn’t regret withdrawing Gehrig from the Gr.1 Vodafone New Zealand Derby nominations despite the three-year-old’s maiden victory over ground at Te Aroha yesterday.

Gehrig, a son of Cape Blanco and James’ good racemare La Sizeranne, was having just his third start when he was stepped up from 1600m in the Baker & Forsman Racing Stables 2200 and he proved too strong for his rivals when winning by a length and a quarter from Winklebelle.

But James believes the promising stayer doesn’t have the necessary ringcraft to handle the build-up needed to tackle the 2400m Derby.

‘’I pulled him out of the Derby during the week,’’ said James, who trains in partnership with Robert Wellwood. ‘’While he might have the ability, I don’t think he’s got the brain to get there and have a Derby preparation.

‘’He has got a future and it might be time to back off him for a while. I’m not getting carried away. There are still other Derbys later in the season, but it might be as a four or five-year-old that he matures.”

Gehrig had shown ability in two trials, with a second then a win at Avondale, before finishing sixth on debut at Te Rapa on December 22 when racing over 1400m. He made ground late on that occasion and again was doing his best work late when fourth over 1600m at Te Rapa second-up.

That second start took on more meaning when the winner Sponge Bob followed up with a win in the Waikato Guineas last Saturday.

Vinnie Colgan has been Gehrif’s regular rider and he had the horse in fourth or fifth placing for most of the journey before moving him up to challenge on the home turn. Gehrig got to the front at the 200m and he kept kicking under Colgan’s urgings to draw clear in the final stages.

‘’I haven’t ever seen Winnie work so hard in a midweek race,’’ said James. “He didn’t have an easy ride.”

Colgan acknowledged he certainly earned his riding fee on Gehrig.

“He’s a fairly awkward horse,’’ he said. ‘’He’s probably six months away.’’

 

Marshal opens Cup favourite

Mongolian Marshal heads the betting for the Gr.2 Avondale Cup this weekend.

The Murray Baker and Andrew Forsman-trained Mongolian Marshal has opened a $3 favourite with TAB Bookmakers for Saturday’s Gr.2 Coca-Cola Avondale Cup (2400m) at Ellerslie.

The High Chaparral four-year-old is the winner of five of his 15 starts, including the Gr.3 Waikato Cup (2400m), and though four of those wins have been up to 1600m, Baker pointed out he had won at the trip.

“The horse is well, but the distance is a query, though he has won a Waikato Cup at 2400m,” Baker said.

The showy gelding has had a good recent run of form, backing up his Waikato Cup win in December with a placing in the Gr.3 City of Auckland Cup (2400m) on New Year’s Day and a runner-up performance behind Five to Midnight in the Karaka Cup (2200m) at Ellerslie last month.

Glory Days opened as an equal $5.50 second favourite for the Avondale Cup alongside Five To Midnight.

  • NZ Racing Desk

Group One disappointments for Brownes

Stratocaster is being freshened after failing at Te Rapa last Saturday.

David and Emma-Lee Browne are back to the drawing board with Belle du Nord and Stratocaster after the stablemates disappointed in their respective back-type performances at Te Rapa last Saturday.

Belle du Nord tailed the field home in the Gr.1 Herbie Dyke Stakes (2000m), while Stratocaster finished unplaced in the Gr.1 BCD Group Sprint (1400m).

“They were a little disappointing,” Emma-Lee Browne said.

“I think the run didn’t go quite to plan for Belle du Nord and we’ll just have to write that one off. We are just in the stage of planning where we go next with her.

“Stratocaster has pulled up fine. He’s had quite a bit of racing lately so we are just giving him a little freshen-up after that run and we’ll see after two weeks out in the paddock where we head to next with him.”

  • NZ Racing Desk

Pike’s Derby cards on table

Surely Sacred, who will be ridden by Vinnie Colgan when he tackles Saturday’s Avondale Guineas.

Cambridge trainer Tony Pike will use the Gr.2 Schweppes Avondale Guineas (2100m) at Ellerslie on Saturday as a test for the Gr.1 Vodafone New Zealand Derby (2400m) next month.

He will line up two runners in the Guineas and is hoping Surely Sacred can add another scalp to his record after taking the Gr.2 Auckland Guineas (1600m) at Ellerslie on New Year’s Day.

“Surely Sacred has been competitive in all the strong three-year-old races to date,” Pike said.

“He was extremely unlucky in the Karaka Mile (to finish fifth).  He just got shuffled back in a slowly run race at the wrong time, but he finished the race off really well.”

The three-year-old gelding will step up to 2100m for the first time on Saturday, but Pike doesn’t believe that will pose any issues for the son of Rock ‘n’ Pop.

“I think the 2100m will suit him, being out of Provocative’s family,’’ Pike said. ‘’He looks like a nice horse heading forward to the Derby.’’

Surely Sacred is a half-brother to the dam of Provocative, whom Pike trained to win the Gr.1 Queensland Oaks (2400m), and Pike said that bodes well for his Derby aspirations next month.

“He has shown us no reason why he couldn’t stay the 2400m distance of the Derby,” Pike said.

“He is by Rock ‘n’ Pop, who was a Group One winner at a mile and didn’t get a lot further, but he has got a reasonably stout pedigree behind him.

“With everything he has shown us to date, and he switches off well in his races, it suggests he should get the mile and a half with no worries.”

With the suspension of regular rider Leith Innes, Vinnie Colgan will take the reins aboard Surely Sacred on Saturday.

While Pike is bullish about the chances of Surely Scared leading into the Guineas, he is taking a wait-and-see approach with fellow Derby aspirant Rippa Eagle.

The son of Rip Van Winkle has won two of his six starts and Pike wants to find out if his gelding can step up against his Classic rivals on Saturday before deciding on whether he will press on to the Derby.

“He wasn’t paid up for the Karaka Millions so he couldn’t run in the mile,” Pike said.

“He went down and took on the older horses midweek at Hastings (over 2000m). It was a fair run, but first time over ground against older horses we are happy enough to forgive that run.

“It was a solid run for third and it’s really a roll of the dice on Saturday to see if he will stay the 2100m against the better three-year-olds. If he does, then he will press on towards the Derby.”

– NZ Racing Desk

Wekaforce ready to bounce back

Wekaforce showed with her trials win today she will be a big chance fresh-up this weekend.

Promising Cambridge three-year-old filly Wekaforce will make her raceday return in the Superfence 1200 at Ellerslie on Saturday after impressing in her trial on her home course today.

The daughter of Showcasing, who hasn’t been seen since her unplaced run in the Gr.1 New Zealand 1000 Guineas (1600m) in November, won her 935m open catchweight heat by a length and trainer Tony Pike thinks the stakes performer will appreciate the 1200m this weekend.

“She was very gallant in the Guineas, at a distance that was just a touch too far for her,” he said.

“She has trialled up super today. Back to the 1200m on Saturday really suits, so she is going to be extremely competitive.”

Wekaforce will be joined in Saturday’s race by stablemate Lismore Diamond. The three-year-old daughter of O’Reilly won her last start over 1200m at Hastings and Pike rates her a good chance.

“Lismore Diamond is coming off a midweek maiden win and she did that nicely,” he said.

“She’s a progressive mare. She’s a lot stronger this preparation and while they are a step up in company, she will be hitting the line strongly late.”

  • NZ Racing Dept

Australian Gr.1 next for Ardrossan

Ardrossan (centre) finishing a close third behind winner Melody Belle and runner-up Bostonian (outside) in last Saturday’s Gr.1 BCD Group Sprint at Te Rapa.

Smart Cambridge sprinter Ardrossan is to continue his Group One path in Australia.

The Redoute’s Choice four-year-old suffered his first New Zealand defeat in Saturday’s Gr.1 BCD Group Sprint (1400m) at Te Rapa, but lost no admirers with his fighting effort for a close third behind Melody Belle when beaten a head and a nose.

On the strength of that performance his connections have decided to shift their sights to the Gr.1 A$500,000 Canterbury Stakes (1300m) at Randwick on March 9 rather than opt for the lesser mission of the Gr.3 Waikato Stud Plate (1200m) at Ellerslie a week earlier.

“He deserves a crack at the Group One in Sydney,’’ trainer Stephen Marsh said.

‘’The owners are keen to have a go and he went a top race on Saturday. He has pulled up well and the 1300m  should suit him.

‘’We’ll look to take him over close to the race and we’re yet to decide on a rider.’’

Among Ardrossan’s five New Zealand starts are two black-type wins, including a strong victory in the Gr.3 Concorde Handicap (1200m) at Ellerslie last month, and his Gr.1 placing has helped boost his pedigree.

But he needs to gather significant black-type form in Australia to increase his value as a potential sire and Marsh is hoping he can do that at the top level next start.

‘’At this stage we’re just concentrating on the Canterbury Stakes and we’ll see after that whether he has another run in Sydney,’’ Marsh said.

Ardrossan’s racing career has been resurrected since he was sent to Melbourne last year and a series of problems prevented him showing his real form in three starts.

His comeback run for Marsh was a winning one at Te Aroha when beating Dama Zorro, who won the final race at Te Rapa on Saturday for visiting jockey Michael Rodd.

Marsh enjoyed a win with Miss Rippy at Te Rapa on Saturday and gave Crown Prosecutor, winner of the Gr.3 Wellington Stakes (1600m) a lead-up to the Gr.1 Vodafone New Zealand Derby (2400m) next month.

Crown Prosecutor finished ninth in the Gr.2 Waikato Guineas (2000m), six and a quarter lengths from the winner, Sponge Bob.

“He’ll go straight to the Derby now,’’ Marsh said. ‘’He’ll be ridden a lot more forward in the Derby to use his speed. He just got too far back on Saturday.’’

Marsh’s other New Zealand Derby prospect is Vernanme, who will be on trial for the feature when tackling the Gr.2 Avondale Guineas (2100m) at Ellerslie this coming Saturday.

The son of O’Reilly is a one-race winner, but justified his Derby nomination when second equal behind Madison County in the Gr.1 Levin Classic (1600m) at Trentham last start.

“He’s flying at present,’’ Marsh said. ‘’He went a top race last start and the distance will suit him on Saturday. Jason Waddell will ride him in that and also the Derby.”

Waddell won last year’s New Zealand Derby on Vin De Dance after finishing third on him in the Avondale Guineas.