Hills chasing second Otaki Group One win

Cambridge jockey Mark Hills has been given an opportunity to win the Otaki Group One weight-for-age event for the second time.

Hills won the race two years ago as the stand-in rider on the Linda Laing-trained Veyron and on Saturday he will be chasing victory in the Haunui Farm Group One WFA Classic on another Cambridge galloper, Fleur de Lune.

It will be Hills’ first ride on Fleur de Lune and he has landed the ride with Matt Cameron, the mare’s last-start rider, committed to engagements at the Matamata meeting, including Flaming in the Gr. 2 J. Swap Contractors Matamata Breeders’ Stakes.

“Mark galloped her for me yesterday morning,” said Fleur de Lune’s trainer, Lee Somervell. “It was a good chance to let him get a feel of her and he was pleased with the way she went.”

Fleur de Lune hasn’t won since taking the Gr. 1 Sistema Railway Stakes at Ellerslie 14 months ago in the hands of former regular rider Jason Jago, but Somervell has been pleased with her latest efforts.

Fleur de Lune finished a very close third in the Gr. 3 Aussie Butcher Concorde at Ellerslie on December 7 then fifth equal behind Bounding in the Gr. 1 Sistema Railway Stakes and fifth to Viadana (when ridden for the first time by Cameron) in the Gr. 1 NRM Sprint at Te Rapa last Saturday week.

“She got quite a lot of interference in the Railway then the rub of the green didn’t go her way at Te Rapa,” said Somervell. “Matt got off and said he wish he had a bit more knowledge about her and, if he had, he was confident she would have been closer.

“As it was, she was doing her best work at the finish and was only 1.3 lengths off the winner.”

Somervell says he has had to change tact in the race tactics with Fleur de Lune.

“Her racing pattern has changed from last year,” he said. “She’s lost that brilliance out of the barriers. She takes 200 to 300 metres to get going then she’s right.

“I really feel 1600 metres suits her now. And I’m not worried about the draw (nine) on Saturday. The way she’s racing it might suit her.”

Provided Fleur de Lune goes well this weekend she will return to Te Aroha for another tilt at the Gr. 1 Fiber Fresh NZ Thoroughbred Breeders’ Stakes, on April 5. She was a close third in the 2011 feature, then beaten a nose by Say No More when second two years ago and seventh last year.

Somervell will also be starting Holy Affair at the Otaki meeting, in the Tui – Backing A Winner since 1889 Handicap. Holy Affair has finished fourth in his last two starts and will again be ridden by Jago.

“I’m putting blinkers on him this time,” said Somervell. “He ran a very good fourth last time at Pukekohe and the blinkers should sharpen him up a bit more.”

While at Otaki, Somervell will be keeping tabs on the performance of Kentucky Son in the final event at Matamata on Saturday.

“He’s my Derby horse and, though he’s run last in his last two starts, I know he’s far better,” said Somervell. “Trudy (Thornton) got off him last time and said he was travelling well until he got a bump at the top of the straight and he switched off.

“He’s racing in blinkers on Saturday and he’s back to Matamata, where he has won before.”