Ritchie’s top band of fillies

Cambridge trainer Shaune Ritchie admits he’s spoilt when it comes to top three-year-old fillies this season.

Ritchie has already tasted stakes success with Artistic and he will be hoping stablemates Zurella and Forgive No Forget also earn black type this weekend. Zurella, who like Artistic is owned by The Oaks Stud, will race in the Group III $70,000 Ezibuy Eulogy Stakes (1600m) at Awapuni on Saturday and Forgive No Forget will head to Ellerslie a day later for the Listed $45,000 Mad Butcher Championship Stakes Prelude (2100m).

“I’m spoilt for choice when it comes to fillies this season,” said Ritchie. “They are three fillies who anyone would love to have in the stable and they’re all Oaks types.”

But if all goes well with Zurella, the Zabeel filly could switch to the Group I Telecom NZ Derby (2400m) at Ellerslie on March 3, a fortnight before the Group I Wellfield NZ Oaks at Trentham.

“Zurella is more like a colt than a filly and that’s why I put her in the Derby,” said Ritchie. “If she continues to do well I wouldn’t hesitate to take on the boys with her.”

Meantime Ritchie is doing his best to split the three fillies with Artistic having enjoyed a break since her trip south for the Group I NZ 1000 Guineas at Riccarton.

“Artistic will run in the Eight Carat Stakes at Ellerslie on Boxing Day and I’ll try and keep her to 1600 metres a bit further and try her over ground in the autumn,” said Ritchie. “She’s a filly who will appreciate the bit extra time before she’s asked to stay.  Zurella will go to the Royal Stakes after this one on Saturday. She’ll be ready for the 2000 metres by then.”

Zurella was placed in two trials before being runner-up on debut at Te Rapa last September and she is unbeaten in two subsequent starts, scoring over 1400 metres at Hastings on October 13 and over 1600 at Te Rapa on November 5.

Zurella will be ridden for the first time on Saturday by Lisa Allpress with regular rider James McDonald being committed to engagements at Te Rapa. “Lisa is a top rider and she knows Awapuni well. I’m happy to have her on,” said Ritchie.

Zurella will be tried in blinkers this weekend. “She’s a Zabeel and they all are better when you put blinkers on,” said Ritchie. “This seems the best time to try her. I didn’t want to put them on next time when she’s stepping up over distance.”

The Zabeel filly has drawn the inside barrier and Ritchie believes that could be to her advantage first time in blinkers. Zurella and stablemate Mr Ginger headed south today and Ritchie plans to work the pair at the Foxton beach tomorrow.

Ritchie will be at Ellerslie on Sunday watching Forgive No Forget tackle the Mad Butcher Championship Stakes Prelude and he expects a top run from the Darci Brahma filly.

“James (McDonald) will ride her and he’s got a massive opinion of her,” said Ritchie.  “I’m going to do something a bit different with her even if she wins on Sunday. She’s doing a lot of sleeping so is growing and I feel she will have to have a break if we’re going to go through to the NZ Oaks with her. She can have two or three weeks out in the paddock after Sunday.”

Forgive No Forget has won twice from three starts with her most recent win being at Otaki.