Return to Aussie on cards

Return trips to Australia will remain on the agenda for Cambridge stablemates Artistic and Zurella provided they measure up over the next few days.

Trainer Shaune Ritchie will start Artistic in the Listed $50,000 NZ Bloodstock Insurance Manawatu Breeders Stakes at Awapuni tomorrow and Zurella a day later in the Group I $200,000 Manco Easter Handicap at Ellerslie.

The Manawatu mission will be the first of two further New Zealand starts for Artistic before she heads to the Queensland Winter Carnival.

“I’m carefully spacing her races as I’m mindful of having her at her peak in Brisbane,” said Ritchie. “The Brisbane Cup is her main goal and I want to try and get her into it with the correct weight or rating. She’ll have two runs here then go over and have two in Brisbane. She’ll have a lead-up to the Brisbane Cup.”

The second of Artistic’s local runs will be in the Group II $100,000 Travis Stakes (2000m) at the Cambridge Jockey Club’s meeting at Te Rapa on April 27.

Artistic hasn’t won since narrowly beating Zurella in an Oaks Stud- Ritchie quinella in last year’s Group I Wellfield NZ Oaks (2400m) at Trentham. Since then she has picked up three placings from her nine starts, including a second in the Group II Doomben Roses during a three-race Queensland campaign last year.

This year’s campaign for Artistic has included three runs, the latest resulting in a fifth to Ocean Park in the Group I Lindauer NZ Stakes at Ellerslie last month.

Artistic will be ridden for the first time by Mark Du Plessis in tomorrow’s assignment, while Matt Cameron will be reunited with Zurella in the Easter Handicap. Cameron had his first ride on Zurella when a fresh-up third behind Final Touch and Xanadu in the Group I Waikato Draught Sprint at Te Rapa on February 9.

Zurella has had just one start since the Te Rapa performance and that was a hit-and-run bid on the Group I Coolmore Classic (1500m) at Rosehill on March 23. The result in the Sydney feature was a strong-finishing fifth behind Appearance, who went on to record another Group One win last weekend.

“She’s on track for the Easter,” said Ritchie. “We did think briefly about running her last week in the Breeders’ Stakes at Te Aroha, but I do think she’s best going 1600 with space between her races. She’ll have had three weeks when she runs on Saturday and she’s needed all of that.”

Zurella has been a multiple Group winner, but a Group One win has eluded her. “She deserves a Group One tag. It’s the last hill to climb with her,” said Ritchie. “We’re pretty keen to get her to Melbourne in the spring and it would be nice to have a Group One on her CV before then.”

Ritchie says he has two immediate Australian options with Zurella if she runs well on Saturday. “She could make a hit-and-run attack at the end of the Sydney carnival for either the Queen Elizabeth Stakes or the Emancipation Stakes,” he said. “The Emancipation might be the better option because the likely field for the Queen Elizabeth looks to be getting stronger by the day.”