Ellerslie highlights likely Karaka Million favourite

Whiskey Neat (Leith Innes) living up to expectations with a fine dress rehearsal for the Karaka Million.

Exciting Cambridge two-year-old Whiskey Neat has cemented his claim for the favourite’s tag for the rich Listed Karaka Million 2YO (1200m) later this month.

The Tony Pike-trained youngster earned the top ranking when he led all the way to take the Gr.3 Barneswood Farm Eclipse Stakes (1200m) at Ellerslie.

Whiskey Neat had set tongues wagging when he won by 10 lengths on debut at Otaki last month, a victory that left pundits wondering if he could replicate that sort of effort against a far stronger field in today’s juvenile feature.

Those questions were answered in emphatic fashion as the strapping Denman youngster dominated from the front throughout the contest before coasting home to down the previously unbeaten Aotea Lad and Exuberant in a slick 1.10.66 for 1200m.

Despite Whiskey Neat getting a little wayward over the last 100m, Pike was pleased with the youngster’s debut outing at the Ellerslie track under raceday conditions as he looks forward to the Karaka Million later this month.

“He got quite lost today off the bridle,” he said. “It’s obviously a lot stronger race today.

“Leith (Innes) rode him well, cuddled him up around the corner, but when he went for him it took him a while to work it out.

“He changed legs a couple of times and had a good look at the winning post so he will obviously improve off that.”

Pike is happy to go into the $1 million juvenile feature on January 26 without another run for his charge.

“He needed to win today to think you were a chance of winning the Karaka Million,” he said.

“He has beaten some nice two-year-olds.

“He’ll improve a lot so we’re looking forward to three and a half weeks from today.

“We’ll just keep him ticking over and maybe come back for a gallop if they open the course before that meeting.”

Rider Leith Innes was satisfied by the effort and believes there is more to come for the youngster.

“He got softened up the whole race and they all had their chance to get past him,” he said.

“He’s a big, gross horse who I don’t think Tony (Pike) has got to the bottom of yet.”

Runner-up Aotea Lad lost no admirers with a barnstorming finish from near last on the turn, while third-placed Exuberant also closed off stylishly to suggest both will be serious contenders for the Karaka Million.

– NZ Racing Desk