Mufhasa all class in Manawatu first

THE KING'S BACK: Sam Spratt celebrates the terrific return to form by Mufhasa in the Challenge Stakes at Awapuni.
THE KING'S BACK: Sam Spratt celebrates the terrific return to form by Mufhasa in the Challenge Stakes at Awapuni.

Reigning New Zealand Horse of the Year Mufhasa made his first appearance on the Awapuni track a winning one when he proved a class above his rivals in yesterday's Group 3 $70,000 Tod Seeds Manawatu Challenge Stakes.

The Pentire 8-year-old brought up the 20th win of his career with a 2 1/2 length demolition of his rivals in the 1400-metre weight-for-age event but probably won't race again for another six weeks.

Trainer Stephen McKee said he wants to space his races to save his legs and will just keep him ticking over until the first week in February.

"He'll probably have his next start in either the Waikato Draught Sprint at Te Rapa or the Orr Stakes in Caulfield," McKee said.

"They are both run about the same time and are both over 1400 metres."

Mufhasa went into yesterday's race on the back of a fourth in the Captain Cook Stakes (1600m) at Trentham three weeks ago, where jockey Sam Spratt came in for some criticism for going too early in the home straight.

Yesterday, Spratt rode the Pentire gelding to perfection, taking her time to get to the front and then sitting quietly until the last 200m.

When she finally asked Mufhasa to extend, the response was electric and he quickly put a space on the opposition.

"I was swinging on him in front and I had to half-pie take another hold on the corner," Spratt said.

"I held him up for as long as I could and, although I pulled the stick, I think he could have won with just a hands and heels ride."

Former Singapore galloper Better Then Ever chased Mufhasa home in second place, with Final Touch a length back, third.

ABRAHAM LINCOLN could be a contender for the Group 1 New Zealand Derby at Ellerslie in March after notching his second win from four starts with another impressive performance in the 1600m special conditions race.

Awapuni trainer Lisa Latta holds the O'Reilly gelding in very high regard but says he still has a lot to learn.

"We may give him 10 days in the paddock now and then bring him back and give him a race right-handed before setting him for the derby," she said.

AWAPUNI-TRAINED Keepherhot took a step towards a start in next month's $1 million Karaka Million when she outfinished favourite Touche to win the $20,000 2-year-old race.

The Keeper filly, bred at Cambridge Stud, was a $75,000 buy from the select session at this year's Karaka yearling sales and trainer Lisa Latta is keen to get her to the feature event for that sale's graduates, at Ellerslie on January 27.

"We'll give her a run the other way round to give some experience right- handed and then head towards the Karaka Million," Latta said.

Latta won the 2011 running of the Karaka Million with Fort Lincoln.

Keepherhot won yesterday's 1100m race by a neck and was having her fourth start, the previous three resulting in a fourth and two thirds.

She is out of the Stravinsky mare Lady Firebird, who is a daughter of the Australian-bred mare Miss Power Bird.

THE CONNECTIONS of High Fashion got some compensation for her unlucky run in the Group 3 $70,000 Eulogy Stakes eight days ago when the highly regarded filly scored a decisive win in the $20,000 3-year-old race at Awapuni yesterday.

The O'Reilly filly was lucky to stay on her feet when she clipped heels and blundered 300m from the finish in the Eulogy and dropped out to run last.

Yesterday she enjoyed a perfect run in the Totally Vets Premier and raced clear, once rider Hayden Tinsley asked her to accelerate, to score a comfortable 11/4 length win over Lumiere Blue.

Trainer Kevin Gray said High Fashion, who has now won two of six starts, will be given a short break and brought back for some of the major fillies' races in the New Year, with a crack at the Group 1 NZ Oaks at Trentham in March.

Sunday Star Times