Oak Park continues to impress with tough Rotorua Stakes victory
Cambridge trainer Murray Baker pulled the right rein with Oak Park at Rotorua on Saturday.
But his stable foreman Andrew Forsman was afraid that getting into the Listed weight-for-age Rotorua Stakes might have been like feeding her to the lions.
As it worked out, the tiny filly produced a giant-killing act in the hands of Lisa Cropp to claim the 1400m fillies and mares feature.
"I thought she was a certainty in the three-year-old race and that was the race I wanted her to go in,'' Forsman said.
"It's nice when it all works out like that. It doesn't always.''
More Than Ready three-year-old filly Oak Park was the second emergency for the Rotorua Stakes and only made the field after scratchings.
"She wasn't well off under the weight-for-age conditions. She was only getting 2kg from Fleur de Lune, who was 24 points ahead of her in the ratings,'' said Forsman, deputising for Baker who was in Brisbane over the weekend.
"And we weren't sure if she'd handle a wet track. But she's always surprised us. We've always thought `is she up to that next step?' But she just keeps taking that step and keeps improving.
"At the start, we thought she might be a two or three-win filly at best, and if we got that out of her, we'd have done a good job with her. But she might be a whole lot better than we've given her credit for.
"She's only tiny. She's only 14 hands high and she's nothing to look it. But she must have a pretty big heart because she always puts in.''
Cropp held her position from an inside barrier draw on the slow track and had Oak Park travelling in the first three or four in running throughout.
Favourite Fleur de Lune went up and took the lead inside the final 300m and looked the winner before Oak Park lifted on the inside to score by a half-head from Zennista, who finished strongly down the outside to pip Fleur de Lune for second on the line.
It was a significant first black-type win for Oak Park, who was scratched from last month's Gr III Windsor Park Stud Breeders' Stakes (1200m) at Te Rapa after she drew a wide barrier.
Forsman said Oak Park was now likely to be set for the Listed $50,000 Tauranga Classic (1400m) on June 23.
Cropp expected further improvement from the filly.
"It was such a tough run from her. She was gone soon after we turned in and I thought she was going to run a really good third, but then the others have come back to her and she's kept finding,'' Cropp said.
"She was actually pulling away at the finish and there's still more in store for her.''
The filly is raced by Queensland pharmacist Michael Collins, who named the filly after the racetrack where he commentates at an annual race meeting.
Meanwhile, Forsman said emerging three-year-old sprinter Pellegrini would shoot for his fourth straight win in the 1400m open handicap at Te Rapa on Saturday, while the sale of the stable's star three-year-old stayer Malandrino to Hong Kong interests had gone through.
Lady Kipling, a star performer for the stable this season, was recovering from surgery to remove bone chips from a knee and would return to racing after a winter and spring spell, Forsman added.