Former Singapore star Better Than Ever has further raised optimism that he could return to his best form after an encouraging trials second to star mare Planet Rock at Te Aroha yesterday.
A winner of 16 of his 26 starts, Better Than Ever won his first 12 starts, including the Singapore-Gr I treble of the
Singapore Guineas, Kranji Mile and the Raffles Cup. He went on to win last year's Kranji Mile for a second time but bled in his final Singapore start in May this year.
Bred by Matamata's Graham, Helen-Gaye and Kylie Bax, Better Than Ever was trained by Singapore's champion trainer Laurie Laxon before flying back to New Zealand in September.
Yesterday's trial, in the hands of stable jockey Matthew Cameron, was his first appearance in New Zealand since winning at the Cambridge trials in April 2009 and was just the sort of performance Matamata trainer Jason Bridgman wanted to see out of the French Deputy six-year-old gelding.
"He wasn't asked to be extended today - he was just having a quiet trial - but he seems to have done everything right so I'm very pleased," Bridgman said.
"He's coming off a bleeding attack in Singapore and we just wanted him to have a good experience - to get around and build his confidence up and not overtax him. Matt was under instructions not to extend him."
Bridgman said he was still getting to know Better Than Ever and working out the best way to train him and he would first assess how comes through the trial in the next few days before deciding on his next appearance.
"He's got a fair bit of wear and tear as an older horse and it may be the case that we find a race for him rather than another trial but we'll see just how he comes through it really."
Bridgman said Better Than Ever could trial at Cambridge on December 12, should he decide not to go straight to the races.
"When you take a line through his form in Singapore, in the last couple of seasons he hadn't been at the level he began at. It's been a while since his last Gr I win," Bridgman said.
"But he's going to be competitive in the right race and if we can get him back to his best, there's a chance he could measure up to the top level here but we've just got to find our way with him.
"He's settled in well and acclimatised well. He hasn't left an oat, his coat is gleaming and I've been really happy with him."
South Auckland trainer Peter Williams was thrilled with Planet Rock's win in the 1000m open heat and said she was on track for her early-campaign target of the Gr II Rich Hill Mile at Ellerslie on New Year's Day.
"I'm quite happy with her at this stage of the preparation. She's a bit further forward than I thought she was actually," he said.
"I've got to go home now and sit down and analyse what we do with her. She could go first-up into the Concorde and though that's more of a sprinter's race than a target, she could go well in that fresh."
The Gr II Concorde Stakes (1200m) is run at Ellerslie on Saturday week.
Planet Rock is already a Gr II winner at Ellerslie of the Eight Carat Classic, while her best win remains her Gr I 1000 Guineas triumph at Riccarton 12 months ago.
Meanwhile, Bridgman said Darci Brahma's three-quarter brother Burgundy was ready to put his best foot forward when he resumes in Friday's Listed $50,000 Levin Stakes (1200m) at Otaki.
The Gr III-winning Redoute's Choice entire has won two trials in preparation for his first-up run as a four-year-old.
"I'm really pleased with him. He looks to the eye really well," Bridgman said.
"He's tightened up nicely with those two trials. He's about 40 kilos heavier than he was last season, but that's about what you'd like to see him at as an older horse. Looking at the nominations, it's going to be a nice starting point for him.
''Those two trials should have him pretty ready for Friday's assignment and then all going well it's straight into the Railway. He always improves with a race under his belt but we couldn't be happier with him."
The $200,000 Railway Stakes (1200m) is run at Gr I level at Ellerslie on January 1 and a win would enhance Burgundy's future stud value.
- © Fairfax NZ News