Cambridge trainer Tony Pike believes Flying Spur colt Sacred Star will be far better suited to the New Zealand Derby distance later in the season but he's happy to take his chances in Friday's Gr I Levin Classic.
Pike yesterday paid the $1581.25 late entry fee for Sacred Star for the $250,000 1600m three-year-old feature at Otaki, comfortable the former Chris Waller charge was in with a fighting chance.
Raced by Raffles Farm owner Dato Yap Kim San, Sacred Star has had seven starts in Australia for two wins, one as a two-year-old over 1300m at Newcastle in June and a last-start three-year-old Benchmark Rating 67 win at Rosehill over 1900m last Wednesday.
Pike and his co-trainer Mark Donoghue know the colt well as they did his early education and produced him for two trials placings earlier this year, at Cambridge and Te Awamutu, before he was sent to Waller in Sydney.
"I had him as a two-year-old and he trialled up really nicely in New Zealand before he went over to Chris," Pike said yesterday.
"His runs there had been fairly solid but he had to step up to 1900m in three-year-old company to win last start so this is a decent step up in class. The drop back in trip isn't ideal and he hasn't taken on Group horses yet, so whether he's up to it - who knows? But we'll find out on Friday.
"He's very fit and bright. His main aim is the New Zealand Derby but the Levin Classic field has dropped away and we thought at this point of his preparation we know he runs out a strong trip and it's a Gr I race so we may as well have a crack at it."
Pike said Sacred Star had settled back into stable life in Cambridge quickly and had pleased him with his trackwork yesterday.
"He worked up nicely this morning. He didn't do a lot as he's coming back from 1900m last time but he looked bright and well. We're happy with him," Pike said.
Pike has already enjoyed Gr I success this season for Dato Yap with star O'Reilly colt Sacred Falls winning the 2000 Guineas (1600m) at Riccarton earlier this month, having earlier strung together wins in the Listed Westbury Challenge Stakes at Ruakaka, Gr II Hawke's Bay Guineas at Hastings and the Gr III Sarten Memorial at Te Rapa.
Sacred Falls' jockey Leith Innes takes the mount on Sacred Star on Friday.
None of the Guineas placegetters at Riccarton have made the trip north for the Levin Classic with fourth-placed 1000 Guineas filly Canny Franco the closest to the money among the entries.
That has meant the Roger James-trained Touch Win will go into the Levin Classic as the top-rated entry, despite having yet to have placed in a stakes race. He has won three of his four starts though and finished fifth to Sacred Falls in the Hawke's Bay Guineas.
Rider Vinnie Colgan was suspended at Pukekohe last Saturday but has deferred his suspension to be able to ride the Excellent Art gelding.
Pouri Chimes, who was a close second to Touch Win at Tauranga last start, the unbeaten Choisir gelding Le Choix and improving Hamilton filly Soriano join stakes placegetters Zinko, Southern Star, Irish Rebel, Batman and Addictive Habit as leading chances for the Levin Classic, which yesterday had 24 three-year-olds in contention ahead of today's field declaration.
Pike rated Touch Win and Le Choix as the pair to beat but said they were in a similar boat to Sacred Star and while they had both shown unmistakeable promise they had yet to make an impact in stakes company.
- © Fairfax NZ News