Massive day for Cambridge centre

Mark Du Plessis showing his delight after winning the Barfoot & Thompson Auckland Cup on Rock Diva. (Photo: Wally O'Hearn).

Mark Du Plessis showing his delight after winning the Barfoot & Thompson Auckland Cup on Rock Diva. (Photo: Wally O’Hearn).

Rock Diva capped a field day for the Cambridge centre when putting trainer Tony Pike up alongside his father, Wayne, on the Auckland Cup honours’ board at Ellerslie today.

Of the 10 races on the second-day programme, Cambridge stables won eight of the races, including the three features, and left Ardmore trainer Stephen McKee (O’Dianne) and Pukekohe’s Richard Collett (Cartell) to pick up the crumbs.

Stephen Marsh started the ball rolling with the quinella in the first event when the very promising King’s Cross beat stablemate Silver Rod. Marsh then successfully chimed in with his next runner, Alicudi, in another $30,000 maiden event and topped both wins off when producing Thee Auld Floozie to record her first stakes win in the Gr. 3 $70,000 McKee Family Sunline Vase, in which the second and third money was fought out between Saavoya and Charmont, members of the Murray Baker and Andrew Forsman team.

The Baker – Forsman stable had struck in the previous race with the Phil Bayly-owned Blue Flag, a second-starter who finished strongly to score a convincing win. Then three races later Diademe, another from the country’s leading stable, won the Gr. 3 Westbury Classic for the second time, having taken the feature two years ago.

Between the Baker – Forsman double, Lee Somervell, another Cambridge trainer, was in the winner’s enclosure after his hardy stayer Celebrity Miss and Trudy Thornton completed a hat trick of wins in the Crombie Lockwood 3 & 4YO 2100.

The other Cambridge successes came from the Pike stable with Rock Diva landing the Barfoot & Thompson Auckland Cup and stablemate Hollywood Lad (Rory Hutchings) winning the final event when beating the Marsh-trained Santiago in a head-bobbing finish.

It was indeed a day to treasure for Cambridge, especially coming atop four wins on the first day last Saturday, including the main event, the Gr. 1 $750,000 TV3 NZ Derby with Mongolian Khan from the Baker – Forsman barn.

But today the spotlight shone brightly on Rock Diva, Tony Pike and Mark Du Plessis, combining to enjoy Group One glory.

The win was the third in the Auckland Cup for Du Plessis, who won the feature in 2005 aboard Bazelle then again two years later on Prize Lady. And for Pike, it was his fifth at the top level, after Sacred Falls (NZ 2000 Guineas), More Than Sacred (NZ Oaks) and Sacred Star (Armstrong Telegraph Handicap and NRM Sprint).

Though treating each Group One win as a special, Pike says he got an added thrill from today’s win with Rock Diva, who won the McKee Family Sunline Vase at the corresponding meeting last year.

“It’s a real buzz for her to win it,” said Pike. “A lot can go wrong getting a stayer like her ready for a race like this. There’s a fine line between holding her together and doing too much.

“I’ve worked her as light as anything to get her here and it’s worked out. I never had a worry about her getting the 3200 metres.”

Pike was thrilled to pick up a second Auckland Cup for his family. Back in 1981 Drum, part-owned by Wayne Pike and trained by Don Sellwood, was an effortless winner of the Auckland Cup in the hands of Chris McNab, now a successful Cambridge trainer.

Tony Pike was attending primary school at that stage and only dreamed that maybe one day he could experience the thrill himself of having an Auckland Cup winner. That dream came true today when a pre-race plan was followed to the letter by Du Plessis.

Pike and part-owner Bruce Sherwin (of Raffles Dancers Ltd), put a lot of study into how best to ride Rock Diva from her wide draw. “We both decided the only way was to drop her out, save her and come with the last run,” said Pike. “It was a very confident ride from Mark. He summed up the situation perfectly.”

Rock Diva settled at the tailed and Du Plessis cut the corner on the home turn to save some ground and the confidence levels raised. “When I eased her out she let down and really motored home,” he said.

A four-year-old daughter of Lucky Unicorn, Rock Diva stormed down the outside to beat King Kamada, who looked to have the race won when taking over inside the final 200 metres. The winning margin was three-quarters of a length while Pondarosa Miss was a brave third, a length and a quarter back, with the Baker and Forsman-trained Show The World fourth, shading another Cambridge galloper, El Soldado.

Rock Diva had preceded her third, and biggest win, with a third behind Farm Boy and King Kamada in the Gr. 2 Go Racing Syndications Avondale Gold Cup at Ellerslie last month.

The next step for Rock Diva is uncertain, according to Pike. “She’s nominated for the Sydney Cup, but I don’t think she’ll go,” he said. “She’s a four-year-old mare and is immature. It might be better to wait and look for something over in Aussie in the spring.”