ALTHOUGH it appears Australian-breds will play little part in the major cups in Melbourne this spring, the news is not so bleak for the Kiwis, with two of New Zealand’s best-credentialled staying horses making their return at Flemington today.
Cambridge trainer Shaune Ritchie has chosen today’s group 2 Let’s Elope Stakes to kick off the spring campaigns of four-year-olds Miss Artistic and Zurella, who last March earned Ritchie a place in history when they quinellaed the New Zealand Oaks.
There was just a nose between the stablemates that afternoon, and nearly three lengths to the third placegetter, Quintessential. It is that form line that gives Ritchie reason for hope. Following the NZ Oaks, Quintessential went to Brisbane to win the group 1 Queensland Oaks there before finishing second in the Queensland Derby. ”You never know how these fillies come back as four-year-olds when they go into the deep end against the older horses, but on their exposed form you just feel they should be really competitive,” Ritchie said yesterday.
He said that, of his pair, he expected Miss Artistic was better placed to threaten over 1400 metres today, despite having to give her stablemate 2.5 kilograms under the set-weight and penalties scale. ”I went across to Queensland to watch her [Miss Artistic] barrier trial recently and she appears to have held on to that residual fitness from racing over the winter,” Ritchie said.
”She’s really good in the coat because she’s wintered in that warm weather and so I’d expect her to be up and running and hit form pretty quickly. We’re still learning with her. She won the Oaks but 2000 metres might yet be her pet distance, as she’s got a high cruising speed.”
Ritchie is more certain of the staying prospects of Zurella, who has the staying blood through her great sire Zabeel and the brilliance from her dam’s side, with Doneze Girl a daughter of a half-sister to Lonhro. He ran the horse against the males in the NZ Derby at her seventh start and she finished a luckless fifth before again finding trouble in the NZ Oaks. ”I’m very keen on her as a staying mare as she was a big filly and had to grow into herself and that’s why we sent her straight to the paddock after she ran second in the Oaks,” Ritchie said.
”That allowed us to get her in earlier and give her a power of work because our plan with her is to run second-up in the Naturalism [Stakes at Caulfield in two weeks] and we all know that second-up at 2000 metres can be a bit tricky. But I’ve just taken the speed off her and have got her a bit more dour for her first-up run with the Naturalism in mind.
”The Oaks placing has qualified her for the Caulfield Cup but she has to find her way into the race and the Naturalism gives you a ballot-free run into the Caulfield Cup, so it’s an obvious target race along the way.”
Ritchie said the Let’s Elope was as an irresistible race for both his mares. ”We could have stayed at home I suppose, but the way Ocean Park went first-up I don’t fancy our chances of running into him at this stage, and the Makybe Diva is such a deep race that this one suits perfectly.”
The Makybe Diva Stakes is expected to have the largest bearing on the spring’s features, with the return to racing of several of the pre-post fancies, including the imported Manighar, Mawingo, December Draw and Southern Speed.
This story Administrator ready to work first appeared on Nanjing Night Net.