Baker chasing overdue NZ Oaks win

Bonneval (outer) beating Nicoletta to provide Murray Baker and Andrew Forsman with the quinella in the Gr.2 Sir Tristram Fillies Classic. Could it be the same quinella in the NZ Oaks?

Bonneval (outer) beating Nicoletta to provide Murray Baker and Andrew Forsman with the quinella in the Gr.2 Sir Tristram Fillies Classic. Could it be the same quinella in the NZ Oaks?

Could this be the year Murray Baker again gets his name etched on the New Zealand Oaks’ honours board?

It is 25 years since Baker last won the NZ Oaks and he and training partner, Andrew Forsman, have a strong two-pronged attack on tomorrow’s 2400-metre fillies’ event.

The stable will be represented by the TAB Fixed Odds favourite Bonneval and Nicoletta, who is also one of the top fancies with punters.

Baker recorded back-to-back NZ Oaks wins during the early 1990s when training at Woodville. He saddled up Let’s Sgor to win the event in the hands of Larry Cassidy in 1991 and a year later Staring, ridden by Noel Harris, prevailed. Staring, of course, has gone on to become the grandam of the great galloper Dundeel, whom Baker prepared to win six Group One races and over $6.3 million in prizemoney.

These days training from Cambridge, Baker can add to the centre’s record in the feature. Cambridge has had its share of NZ Oaks success and dominated the race for five years from 2009.

Jungle Rocket, trained by Jeff McVean and ridden by James McDonald, started the ball rolling when winning in 2009, then the Shaune Ritchie-trained Keep The Peace won the next year, followed by Paul Duncan’s Midnight Oil, Ritchie’s Artistic (who beat stablemate Zurella) and More Than Sacred, who was trained by Tony Pike and Mark Donoghue.

Last year Stephen Marsh produced Sofia Rosa to win the NZ Oaks, but lost the race to Fanatic in the inquiry room then gained some very worthwhile compensation when winning the Gr.1 STC Oaks in Sydney in her very next start.

Cambridge has six runners in tomorrow’s Wellfield NZ Oaks. Bonneval and Nicoletta will be joined by their arch rival Devise (trained by Shaune Ritchie), Rube Bridges (Stephen Marsh), Korakonui (Ralph Manning) and Imogensmiles (Janenne Dalley).

A winner of three of her six starts, Bonneval has earned favouritism with some excellent lead-up form. After chasing Nicoletta and Devise home when third in the Gr.3 Wellfield Desert Gold Stakes at Trentham, she beat the pair when winning the Gr.2 Cambridge Stud Sir Tristram Fillies Classic at Te Rapa and again when taking the Gr.3 Little Avondale Lowland Stakes at Hastings.

She got home by a mere head over Nicoletta at Te Rapa, but was most impressive when flashing home to score, albeit by a half head, in the Lowland Stakes.

“She did everything right that day,” said Forsman. “She got back, relaxed well in the run. And from barrier 10, a middle draw, hopefully the same thing happens (tomorrow). At Trentham you’ve got a bit more time to relax and work your way into it.”

Like Sofia Rosa, Bonneval is a daughter of Makfi and being from a Zabeel mare she has the breeding to suggest the 2400 metres will be no trouble. And the way she finished off the 2100 metres of the Lowland Stakes (her biggest stamina test to date) she gives every impression she will see out the trip and beyond.

“You would think so, but you never know until you get to the distance on raceday,” said Forsman. “Everything she has done suggests that, so we’re hoping that’s the case.”

There is not the same stamina confidence with Nicoletta, who races in the same colours as Sofia Rosa (those of Lib Petagna).

Nicoletta has won twice and been placed on four occasions in her eight starts and both her wins were over 1600 metres, the most recent in the Gr.3 Wellfield Desert Gold Stakes. She has been tried three times beyond 1600 for a second (Sir Tristram Classic), a fourth (Lowland Stakes) and a fifth (GR.2 Stella Artois Royal Stakes).

Being a course winner is a plus for Nicoletta, but she needs to settle better to be in the firing line tomorrow.

“Form on the track is always good,” said Forsman. “She had a bit of luck that day, whereas others didn’t, in a funny run race.

“She’s had a couple of runs since over ground and just probably been inclined to over-race and just leave herself in front a bit far out.

“In the Lowland she got there easily enough but probably did a bit too much within herself and got exposed. She hit the front at the top of the straight and was always going to be there to be run down.

“If she’s racing like that she’s going to make it hard for herself at 2400 (metres). Hopefully she can switch off and get a bit of cover.”

Baker and Forsman have made a significant gear change with Nicoletta for tomorrow.

“We’ve taken the blinkers off and hopefully that works in her favour,” said Forsman. “If she can relax from a good draw she’s going to be in the finish.”

Bonneval will be ridden by regular rider Matt Cameron, while Michael Coleman is sticking with the Savabeel filly Nicoletta.