Ritchie keeping Zurella guessing

Shaune Ritchie is prepared to try anything new with Zurella and he is stepping right away from his usual pattern of training leading into Saturday’s Gr. 1 $200,000 Herbie Dyke Stakes at Te Rapa.

Zurella looked so exciting as a three-year-old, completing a hat trick of wins in the Gr. 3 Ezibuy Eulogy Stakes and later winning the Gr. 2 Cambridge Stud Sir Tristram Fillies Classic on route to her fifth in the Gr. 1 NZ Derby and nose second to stablemate Artistic in the Gr. 1 Wellfield NZ Oaks.

She then took her best form to Flemington when scoring a first-up Australian win in the Gr. 2 Lets Elope Stakes in September 2012, but since then she has had to settle for three placings. One of those efforts was a third at the Te Rapa International meeting last year behind Final Touch and Xanadu and she will be back at the corresponding fixture this weekend in an attempt to gain that Group One win which has proved so elusive.

“We just haven’t been able to nail that Group One and she just keeps me guessing, so I’ve gone the same way with her training, keeping her guessing,” said the Cambridge trainer.

“Every day I have been putting her over pony fences, doing figure eights with her before she works, and I’ve been talking to other trainers to get different ideas.

“I’m even going to spin her up on racemorning. I can’t remember the last time I ever did that with a horse but it might just take the edge off her. I’ve got to try something different. She has been outthinking me.”

Zurella’s form leading into Saturday’s Herbie Dyke Stakes includes a second to Diademe in the Gr. 2 Cal Isuzu Stakes (1600m) on the track on December 14 and a last-start fourth to A Touch Of Ruby in the Gr. 1 Harcourts Thorndon Mile at Trentham.

“Her form at Te Rapa is strong and if there’s a true pace she’s got to be a big chance, provided she wants to do it,” said Ritchie. “She’s got me really guessing.”

Another change for Zurella will be the rider with Mark Du Plessis taking the reins for the first time.

Ritchie will also be represented in another of the three Te Rapa features, the Gr. 2 Cambridge Stud Sir Tristram Fillies Classic. His hopes rest with Chop Chop, who completed a double when scoring over 1600 metres at Trentham on Wellington Cup day.

“She’s very well and appears to have improved,” said Ritchie. “I’m pleased I didn’t run her in the Desert Gold Stakes the same day. They went two seconds quicker and it might have been a bit too tough on her. The Oaks is her goal and I don’t want to put the pressure on her until then.”

Opie Bosson will ride Chop Chop this weekend but a new rider will have to be found for her next mission, the Gr. 3 Lowland Stakes at Hastings, as the race is on March 1, the same day as the TV3 NZ Derby at Ellerslie.

“It’s a wonder the powers that be don’t change the Lowland meeting to maybe the Sunday so that the jockeys can stick with their Oaks’ mounts right through,” said Ritchie.