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Lucrative spring carnival awaits Kiwi raiders

July 9, 2011

With the spring just a few weeks from its unofficial start, most horses are beginning their preparations for the lucrative carnival.

While much focus has been on Australian horses that are back in work, our neighbours across the Tasman have begun to plan their assault on the upcoming spring carnival.

It has been a dry spell for New Zealand in our major races.

Despite a number of New Zealand-bred horses winning the Caulfield Cup, Cox Plate and Melbourne Cup, it has been a decade since a Kiwi-trained galloper has won any of the big three.

The last was gutsy mare Ethereal, who under the guidance of Sheila Laxon won the Cups double in 2001.

It was another mare in Sunline (1999-2000) who was the last Cox Plate winner to be trained in New Zealand.

Nevertheless, hopes are high that 2011 may finally mark the end of the drought.

In what was considered a fairly weak year for three year olds across both countries, a couple of potential stars emerged out of the Kiwi three year old crop.

Fresh in the minds of punters is Group 1 Queensland Oaks (2400m) winner Scarlett Lady, who earned plaudits after an effortless win in the fillies’ classic.

Such was the strength of her win, she was elevated to favourite for the Caulfield Cup and third favourite for the Melbourne Cup on betting exchange Betfair.

Owner Max Whitby confirmed on radio last week that the primary target for the daughter of Savabeel will be the Group 1 Caulfield Cup (2400m) on October 15.

A Group 1 Melbourne Cup (3200m) start is by no means a certainty, although a forward showing in the Caulfield Cup is bound to see connections press on to the great race.

The Cups are out of the question for another star three year old, that being three time Group 1 winner Jimmy Choux.

An impressive winner of the Group 1 NZ 2000 Guineas (1600m), Group 1 NZ Derby (2400m) and Group 1 Rosehill Guineas (2000m), Jimmy Choux was arguably New Zealand’s horse of the season.

Trainer John Bary believes his disappointing Group 1 AJC Derby (2400m) run proved his charge was no stayer and as a result he will be limiting the son of Thorn Park to 2000m – or, more accurately, 2040m.

The plan is for two runs in New Zealand, kicking off in the Group 1 Mudgway Partswold Stakes (1400m) at Hastings on August 29 before tackling New Zealand’s best weight for age race, the Group 1 Spring Classic (2040m) on October 1.

He will then travel to Melbourne for a crack at the Group 1 Cox Plate (2040m) on October 22, with a trip to Hong Kong a possibility after that run.

He is likely to meet another Derby victor in the Cox Plate, that being runaway Group 1 Victoria Derby (2400m) winner Lion Tamer.

Trained by Murray and Bjorn Baker, arguably the most successful Kiwi trainers in Australia in the last five years, the Storming Home colt is likely to stick to a weight for age path in Melbourne before tackling the Cox Plate.

He will then attempt to become only the third Victoria Derby winner after Phar Lap (1930) and Efficient (2007) to win the Melbourne Cup the year after his Derby triumph.

He will be joined in the Melbourne Cup by his stablemate, two time fifth placegetter Harris Tweed.

Last year’s Caulfield Cup runner up missed the majority of the autumn after a series of setbacks, including an incident where the float driver took the horse to the wrong racecourse.

It is possible, if quarantine issues are sorted, that the tough Kiwi stayer may meet his British namesake in the Melbourne Cup.

The British Harris Tweed is owned by the proprietor of the largest manufacturer of the fabric worldwide, and he is reportedly keen to use the race as a publicity exercise. Click here to read more about the potential for two Harris Tweeds in the Melbourne Cup.

Today’s Listed Queensland Cup winner Tinseltown is a possible Melbourne Cup runner for Mike Moroney, while the Kevin Myers-trained Titch, winner of the Group 1 Auckland Cup (3200m) in March, is also likely to be seen in Victoria.

Another horse on a Melbourne Cup trail is multiple Group 1 winner Booming.

The late maturer has continually improved during the last two seasons, rising through the grades before running an impressive second to Zavite in last year’s Auckland Cup over 3200m.

He was scratched on the morning of last year’s Sydney Cup after running a game third behind subsequent Metropolitan winner Herculian Prince.

However, last summer, he showed his versatility, winning the Group 1 Zabeel Classic (2000m) at weight for age and the Group 1 Thorndon Mile (1600m), a handicap, despite being harshly weighted.

After running second in the Group 1 New Zealand Stakes (2000m), trainer Jeff Lynds sent him out to spell with his eyes firmly on the Melbourne spring, and in particular the Melbourne Cup.

Lynds will also have another multiple Group 1 winner in Wall Street to represent him in Melbourne.

The Group 1 Emirates Stakes (1600m) winner was lacklustre in the Sydney autumn, running poorly in both the Group 1 George Ryder (1500m) and the Group 1 Doncaster Mile (1600m).

However, Lynds is confident that he is back to his best and ready to perform this spring.

Wall Street will meet Jimmy Choux first up in the Mudgway, before running in the other two legs of the Hastings triple crown – the Group 1 Windsor Park Plate (1600m) and the Spring Classic, where he will be out to defend his title.

He will then aim at the Cox Plate again, aiming to improve on his seventh to So You Think last year.

Wall Street’s main rival this season has been the Keeper mare Keep The Peace.

In addition to being sparring rivals on the track, both shared autumn woes – Keep The Peace was sent home after finishing a disappointing last in the Group 1 Ranvet Stakes (2000m) behind Zavite.

Trainer Shaune Ritchie is determined to get the Australian black type he believes she thoroughly deserves, and she is likely to campaign exclusively over here.

She is likely to run first up in the Group 2 Let’s Elope Stakes (1400m) at Flemington on September 3 before blazing a trail through the mares races, with her grand final the Group 1 Myer Classic (1600m) on Derby Day.

The Let’s Elope Stakes is likely to be the Australian starting point for a number of Kiwi mares, including Peter Moody’s new stable acquisition Group 1 NZ 1000 Guineas (1600m) winner King’s Rose, Group 1 Thoroughbred Breeders’ Stakes (1600m) winner Barinka and two time Group 1 placegetter Dasoudi.

All are likely to run in mares races throughout the carnival.

The fairer sex will also be represented by top fillies Anabandana and Dowager Queen.

Anabandana is a winner of four of her six starts, including her last two at Group 1 level in the Diamond Stakes (1200m) and the Sires Produce Stakes (1400m).

She will be aimed at the Group 1 Thousand Guineas (1600m) at Caulfield on October 12, a race which has eluded New Zealand trainers in recent times.

Recent Queensland visitor Dowager Queen will also head in that direction, although connections are already aiming for greater success.

The rising three year old is set to attempt the extraordinary, taking on Australia’s best gallopers in the Cox Plate.

Only one three year old filly has won the Cox Plate – the incomparable Surround in 1976.

Stephen McKee, who co-trained the late champion mare Sunline, hopes to tackle both Sydney and Melbourne’s middle distance races with the consistent Mufhasa.

The son of Pentire, who races as King Mufhasa in Australia, is likely to race in the first two legs of the Hastings triple crown before a possible tilt at races like the Group 1 Epsom Handicap (1600m) and the Emirates Stakes

However, while the entire New Zealand contingent looks on the whole quite strong, there will be notable absentees.

Red Ruler, a three time runner in the Caulfield Cup, will not be seen in Melbourne this year, instead being aimed at the summer middle distance features at home.

Others not to make the trip include New Zealand Oaks winner Midnight Oil (injured), as well as Group 1 winners We Can Say It Now, The Party Stand, Miss Raggedy Ann (all retired) and Veyron (other targets).

Nevertheless, Kiwi trainers are anticipating their most successful carnival in almost a decade.

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