Big weekend ahead for Baker

Leading Herbie Dyke Stakes candidate Lizzie L’Amour (Matt Cameron) winning the Gr.1 Bonecrusher NZ Stakes at Ellerslie last year.

Murray Baker could cap off a memorable weekend with Group success at Te Rapa on Saturday.

On the eve of the Waikato Racing Club’s premier meeting, Baker will become one of the latest inductees into the NZ Racing Hall Of Fame and less than 20 hours later he could have enjoyed further success in either the Gr.1 Herbie Dyke Stakes or Gr.2 Cambridge Stud Sir Tristram Fillies Classic.

Baker won the Herbie Dyke Stakes when it was formerly known as the Whakanui Stud International Stakes in 2002 with Emerald Dream (ridden by Australian jockey Scott Seamer) and he has also picked up a second in the weight-for-age feature with Tusker in 2006 and a third with Fatal in 1999.

This year he and training partner, Andrew Forsman, hold the key with Lizzie L’Amour, Coldplay and Nicoletta all set to compete for major honours.

Lizzie L’Amour stands out as the hardest to beat on the strength of her lead-up form, her good record at Te Rapa and her deeds at weight-for-age over 2000 metres.

She won last year’s Gr.1 Bonecrusher NZ Stakes (wfa 2000m) at Ellerslie and was second there two starts ago behind Authentic Paddy in the Gr.1 Cambridge Stud Zabeel Classic at the same distance and conditions.

“She’s done well and she likes Te Rapa,” said Baker. “She’s got to be hard to beat.”

Lizzie L’Amour has won three times from four starts at Te Rapa, including the 2016 Gr.3 Skycity Hamilton Waikato Cup (2400m) and last December’s Gr.2 Cal Isuzu Stakes (1600m).

The Cal Isuzu win was a welcome first-up relief for her connections after a disastrous four-start Melbourne spring campaign.

“Everything went wrong for her over there so it’s good to see her back in form,” said Baker.

Lizzie L’Amour goes into Saturday’s race with a last-start barnstorming second behind Thee Auld Floozie when dropping back from 2000 metres to 1400 in the Gr.2 Westbury Classic at Ellerslie on Karaka Millions night.

She holds a nomination for the Gr.1 $500,000 Barfoot & Thompson Auckland Cup (3200m) on March 10, but she could instead be back to defend her Group One title in the $200,000 Bonecrusher NZ Stakes the same day.

“It’s doubtful that she’ll go for the Auckland Cup,” said Baker.

Though Lizzie L’Amour will be the punter’s elect in the Herbie Dyke Stakes, Baker believes stablemates Coldplay (Opie Bosson) and Nicoletta (Rory Hutchings) shouldn’t be overlooked.

“Coldplay has only had a few cracks over ground and, if she gets the trip, she’s a chance,” said Baker. “As for Nicoletta, it’s a tough ask, but she’s a Group Three winner and she runs it out all right.”

Coldplay’s three starts beyond 1600 metres were as a three-year-old and included a fourth to stablemate Mime in the Gr.2 Cambridge Stud Sir Tristram Fillies Classic (2000m) at the corresponding meeting two years ago. She then ran fifth in the Gr.3 McKee Family Sunline Vase (2100m) at Ellerslie before failing in the Gr.1 Wellfield NZ Oaks (2400m).

She returned as a four-year-old to be unbeaten in her three starts, capping a win in the Gr.3 Eagle Technology Stakes (1600m) at Ellerslie with victory in the Gr.2 Cal Isuzu Stakes (1600m), but her last spring campaign was affected by the wet tracks.

She bounced back to run third when freshened in the Gr.2 NRM Auckland Thoroughbred Breeders Stakes (1400m) and two starts later won the Gr.2 Rich Hill Mile before clashing with Lizzie L’Amour when third in the Gr.3 Westbury Classic.

Nicoletta won last year’s Gr.3 Wellfield Desert Gold Stakes and was good enough to press multiple Group One-winning stablemate Bonneval to a head when runner-up in last year’s Gr.2 Cambridge Stud Sir Tristram Fillies Classic.

She also chased Bonneval home when fourth in both the Gr.3 Little Avondale Lowland Stakes (2100m) and Gr.1 Wellfield NZ Oaks (2400m) and has picked up a win and two placings in her last four starts.

Having provided the quinella in last year’s Sir Tristram Classic, Baker and Forsman will be hoping for a similar result in the fillies’ feature on Saturday with Milseain and Marcellina.

Milseain, a sister to Hong Kong star Werther, impressed when winning on debut at Hastings then finished well for third to the top filly Dijon Bleu in the Gr.3 Metroclad-Terracade Desert Gold Stakes (1600m) at Trentham.

Marcellina, a Savabeel filly, was trapped wide when unplaced in the Listed Karaka Million 3YO Classic at Ellerslie and, although still a maiden after five starts, she did finish well for third behind Hello It’s Me in the Gr.2 Stella Artois Royal Stakes (2000m) at Ellerslie on New Year’s Day.

“Milseain lacks a bit of ring craft, but she’s got ability,” said Baker. “Marcellina ran on well in the Royal Stakes and she was outpaced over 1600 last time, but we had to have a go.”

Baker has won the Sir Tristram Fillies Classic on four occasions. His first win in the feature came with Let’s Sgor in 1991, then Tusker won in 2005 and Mime a year before Bonneval’s successful stroll toward dual Oaks success.