Two Waikato mares will chase Gr I glory at Alexandra Park tonight, writes Garrick Knight.
Two of Waikato's up-and-coming pacing mares chase Gr I glory at Alexandra Park tonight and their trainers could not be happier with them.
The $100,000 Rosslands Queen of Hearts has become New Zealand's premier event for mares and lists Bettor Cover Lover, De Lovely, Kiwi Ingenuity and One Dream among its recent winners.
The former is a prohibitive $1.60 favourite for tonight's running after drawing the ace, but Hamilton horseman Rod MacKenzie is not conceding with his mare, Averil's Quest ($8.50).
"She's a beauty. I could not be happier with her," he said yesterday.
"I took her to Cambridge yesterday and worked her with a galloping pacemaker and it's fair to say she has never felt better."
Averil's Quest was a nose second to Bettor Cover Lover in the Gr III Northern Breeders' Stakes last week, but MacKenzie said he had been too easy on her in the leadup.
"I hadn't done a lot with her early in the week and she may have just got away on me. Plus there was a decent old headwind last week."
MacKenzie said it wasn't ideal to be drawn six with the favourite drawn one but he had full confidence in his mare and her driver, James Stormont.
"I won't give James any instructions. He knows what he is doing. But I guess he will look to go forward at some stage," MacKenzie said.Cambridge horseman Andrew Neal shares a similar conundrum with the mare he co-trains, Three Jewels ($51).
The four-year-old mare earned her spot in the feature with an impressive win in strong fillies and mares company last week but has had her task this week compounded by drawing the outside of the second line.
"It will be a bit of a learning curve. This is her hardest opposition by far," Neal said.
"But we have always thought a lot of her and her times at home in recent weeks suggest she is ready for it.
"The draw is terrible, all things considered, especially since Bettor Cover Lover and Averil's Quest drew the front line."All we can do is hope the race pans out the way we want it to and try and
get a drag in to the race at the right time.
"She can do a bit of work in her races but can get a bit head strong - she galloped on the top bend last week and lost a few lengths."
Neal and wife Lynn also line up Delight Brigade ($9) in the Gr III $30,000 Kumeu Founders Cup. He finished third in similar company behind Smolda last week.
"He got on one rein a wee bit and Peter [Ferguson, driver] said he was just running out a bit down the straight," Neal said.
"If he had gone straight he might have gone close to winning. He is doing what we always thought he would do and just needs a true pace to be right there."
David Kaa lines up Mista Mara ($17) in the Gr II $50,000 Elsu Classic for three-year-olds, fresh up from the colt's third placing in the Gr I Sires' Stakes Final at Addington on New Zealand Cup day last month.
He won easily at the Auckland workouts last Saturday, recording a 57-second last 800m and two-minute mile rate."He's perfect, I couldn't be happier. I just wanted to make sure he got that last bend at speed, as on his last couple of trips to Auckland he hasn't," Kaa said.
"I thought a 2:46 run would have been enough but he's so free going that he's gone 44 and it didn't hurt him. He has just impressed me since then too. He is
quite screwed down."Kaa was coy on driving tactics in a small but select field, but didn't rule out the option of leading with the son of Lis Mara.
The other feature on the premier card is the first two-year-old race of the season, a $25,000 heat of the annual Young Guns Series.Hot-pot Isaiah ($1.90), from the all-conquering Mark Purdon barn, has drawn the second line.Trainspotters will note that The Jinja Ninja ($51), trained by Dunedin horseman Alan Clark, is not only a filly, but also by trotting sire Sundon.
Clark said the filly possessed "excellent" speed as a trotter but has "a Sundon brain" so he has put the pacing hopples on in an effort to get her round in one piece. Waikato mares Dealornodeal ($12), Great Getaway ($18), Phoebe Revival ($21) and Sapphire Castleton ($31) tackle the Gr III $25,000 Northern Trotting Breeders' Stakes.