Tougher first-up than Pike expected

Shelford (Leith Innes) recording his first New Zealand win. (Photo: Trish Dunell/NZ Racing Desk).

Shelford (Leith Innes) recording his first New Zealand win. (Photo: Trish Dunell/NZ Racing Desk).

Cambridge trainer Tony Pike didn’t expect the strength of opposition facing stable sprinter Shelford when he resumes in the Gr. 3 $70,000 Lochinver Station Plate at Rotorua on Saturday.

“It’s a strong field, a lot stronger than I thought it would be,” said Pike referring to such opposition as Ryan Mark, Whosyourmaster etc in the weight-for-age 1200 metres.

“I thought it would be a nice one to kick him (Shelford) off in, but it’s not going to be easy for him.”

When the draws came out today, Shelford’s task was made a fraction easier as he has been allotted barrier two, while Ryan Mark, who likes to race in the pace, is out at 11.

Shelford did his early racing in Sydney, where he picked up two wins and eight placings, including a second in the Listed Canonbury Stakes and a third in Gr. 2 Todman Slipper Trial behind Pierro, to whom he later finished seventh in the Golden Slipper.

Shelford joined the Pike stable mid-way through last year and was a winner at the Ruakaka trials and second at the Cambridge trials before making his New Zealand debut with a fourth at Ellerslie last November.

He then went on to finish a close third to In Style and Ruud Awakening in the Listed IMG Counties Bowl at Avondale and two starts later won an open sprint at Ellerslie. His remaining two starts last campaign resulted in a fourth at New Plymouth and a last-start second to Durham Town in the Gr. 3 Darley Plate.

Given a spell after that brave Darley Plate run, Shelford has shaped well in two recent trials, finishing second to stablemate Allez Eagle at Cambridge and beating So Wotif at Avondale.

“He’s coming up well and he should go a good race on Saturday,” said Pike, who has Leith Innes engaged to ride the Redoubte’s Choice six-year-old.

Meanwhile, Pike reports he is very pleased with the progress being made of his dual Group One-winning sprinter Sacred Star and Allez Eagle.

Sacred Star is being set for the Railway and Telegraph Handicaps and the NRM Sprint at Te Rapa, while Allez Eagle is on track for the rescheduled Gr. 1 Windsor Park Plate at Trentham on Saturday week.

“I’m happy with both of them,” said Pike. “We’re just taking Sacred Star along quietly and Allez Eagle came through his Hastings win really well. He’ll go for the Windsor Park Plate then, all going well, head down to Christchurch for the Coupland’s Mile.”