New Moon has sorely tested Cambridge trainer Tony Devcich's patience and horsemanship but the rewards may be juicy.
The Ishiguru six-year-old gelding bounced back to his best form with a tenacious Rating 85 win at Ellerslie on Saturday to clinch a start in this weekend's Listed $50,000 Kiwifruit Cup (2100m) at Tauranga.
New Moon has yet to win a stakes race but he finished fourth to Jimmy Choux, Red Ruler and Hold It Harvey in the Gr I Spring Classic (2040m) at Hastings last spring and pushed Gr I performer November Rain to a long head when second in the Carbine Club Trophy (1600m) at Ellerslie last November.
Sum Up, the nominal Kiwifruit Cup favourite had trainer Shelley Hale not changed plans and spelled him, was third at Ellerslie that day and New Moon had also beaten that horse when he won the Winning Edge Presentations Final (1600m) at Tauranga last year.
"I've been thinking about the Kiwifruit Cup,'' Devcich said.
"I'll see how he is and go from there but he's come through yesterday pretty well and I'd say it would be all go.
"I always knew he'd stay but I didn't want to push him too soon and I'd rather keep the speed into him by running him in mile races.''
New Moon went up six points to a rating of 85 with the win and should get into the Kiwifruit Cup field on the minimum of 53kg, with Indikator, on a rating of 101, the likely topweight.
Going into Saturday's race, it had been more than a year since New Moon had last won, but Devcich said a succession of niggling injuries had plagued the horse.
He has worked hard on getting him injury-free and said he knew the galloper must have been right last week when he reared up playfully as Devcich shooed him away from his box.
"He's had lots of little problems,'' Devcich said of New Moon.
"I've had the back man and the shoulder man to him. He never stretched out properly there for a while.
"He does like the drier ground but towards the end of summer, galloping on those harder tracks, his hooves were a bit red, so there must have been a bit of soreness there.
"The softer ground seems to be easier on his feet and he seems to be over his shoulder problems, but you've just got to wait and see. He's better than what he's been showing.''
Devcich said New Moon was likely to remain in work through the winter, ticking over with a view to peaking for the Spring Classic at Hastings on October 6.
The Listed $80,000 Taumarunui Cup (2100m) at Te Rapa is likely to fit into Devcich's plans for the horse.
"I could give him two or three weeks off in between somewhere but I'd like to have another go at that [Spring Classic],'' said Devich, a former New Zealand polo representative.
"He is a good horse and he's an honest horse - a lovely horse to do anything with.''
New Moon had to dig deep in the closing stages of Saturday's Insphire 2200 for jockey Jason Jago, edging out Fiorano and Lucky Charm, with just a long neck and short head separating the first three runners.
Waiuku trainer Dominic Olson said Fiorano was also in contention to back up in the Kiwifruit Cup.
Hale yesterday revealed Sum Up was sent for a spell after his last-start win in the Cornwall Handicap (2200m) at Ellerslie, a move which has opened up the Tauranga feature.
Last year's winner Indikator, fourth in the Cornwall Handicap last start, will bid for his third win in the Kiwifruit Cup, having also won the race in 2009.
"He'll definitely be there,'' co-trainer Gavin Opie said yesterday.
"That's the race we've aimed for since the Cornwall Handicap and we're just waiting for the rain now. There's supposed to be quite a bit early in the week.''
Another on track for the Tauranga feature is Saturday's Awapuni 2100m open handicap winner Intransigent, who was third in the Cornwall.
Trainer Kirsty Lawrence confirmed a trip north for the Refuse To Bend five-year-old, while Cambridge trainer Ralph Manning confirmed Cornwall Handicap runner-up Old Drumble would also head for Tauranga.
However, South Auckland trainer Shaun Clotworthy has baulked at the prospect of backing up The Jungle Boy from his fresh-up win in the feature $25,000 Chevalier Produce Mile at Ellerslie on Saturday.
The Jungle Boy was second to Indikator in last year's Kiwifruit Cup but Clotworthy has plans to campaign him in Melbourne instead.
Matost was second to The Jungle Boy on Saturday, beaten a short neck, with the same margin back to the fast-finishing Taking The Mickey in third.
The Manning-trained Civics Rock ran out a strong winner of the open sprint, scoring by three-quarters of a length from Heydental Tourist, with 1 1/4 lengths back to Ginja Ninja in third.
"He's a good horse - that's his fifth win for the season,'' Manning said yesterday.
Manning will shoot for the feature double at Tauranga on Saturday, with Innovation set for the Listed $50,000 Tauranga Classic (1400m) for fillies and mares.
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