Allan Sharrock has begun the final countdown with his star mare Shez Sinsational.
The racing lease on thefourtime Gr I-winning Ekraar mare expires at the end of the season and the New Plymouth trainer fully intends making the most of the time he has left with her.
The countdown begins in tomorrow's Gr II $85,000 Cal Isuzu Stakes (1600m) at Te Rapa, a key leadup to what Sharrock hopes will be another successful Gr I summer campaign.
"She's really only got five or six races left in her career, I'd say," Sharrock said yesterday.
"She'll have this, the Zabeel Classic and the Darci Brahma [International Stakes]. She's very doubtful for the Auckland Cup with the weight she'll be allotted, so she'll probably run in the weight-for-age [New Zealand Stakes] at the end of the Auckland carnival and then a couple of those races in Sydney or Brisbane and that will be the end of it - for us at least."
Raced by Sharrock's father Bob, Steak Goodin, Allan Baeyertz, Gordon MacDonald and Graeme Phillips, Shez Sinsational was second to Lady Kipling in last year's Cal Isuzu Stakes before claiming her first Gr I victory in the Zabeel Classic (2000m) at Ellerslie on Boxing Day.
She returned to Te Rapa in February to win the Gr I Darci Brahma International Stakes (2000m) en route to sealing stayer of the year honours with her third Gr I win in the Auckland Cup (3200m) at Ellerslie the following month.
She raced below her best in Brisbane last winter but still managed to win the Gr II Hollindale Stakes (1800m) at the Gold Coast, and after a slow start to this season, Shez Sinsational has since returned to the winner's circle, adding her fourth Gr I scalp in the Spring Classic (2040m) at Hastings and then claiming the Gr III Lindauer Stakes (2000m) at Ellerslie.
Though it has been almost six weeks since that race, Sharrock believes he has Shez Sinsational ready to fire in tomorrow's weight-for-age fillies and mares feature.
"I'm very, very happy with her. She's getting ready for the Zabeel Classic but she'll be competitive," Sharrock said.
"I would say she's exactly the same as last year. She sat three wide the entire trip last year.
"James [McDonald, rider] just couldn't get in on her, so her run was full of merit."She'll be 110 per cent for the Zabeel Classic but I'm really happy where I am with her for this one. She likes Te Rapa. It's a track she's raced well on. She's won a Gr I there and ran second in this one last year."
TAB bookmakers yesterday opened Shez Sinsational as a $4 second favourite after drawing the outside barrier of 12 behind this year's Gr I Telegraph Handicap winner and Spring Classic runner-up Guiseppina, drawn six, at $2.80.O'Fille was installed the $6.50 third favourite ahead of Floria at $7, Miss Pelear at $10 and Nicole Amy at $13.Sharrock expected tote betting to follow the fixed-odds market and said Guiseppina was clearly the hardest to beat.
"I'd have been happier if Guiseppina had the 12 draw and my girl was starting from six. We'll just need a bit of luck in running from there. I just can't seem to draw an alley when she's running over a mile.
"But she's got to be competitive in that field. There's Guiseppina and her way ahead of the rest in the ratings, but racing's a funny game," Sharrock said.
"Guiseppina's a very good mare and she's got a tidy draw. At a mile I'd say she'd start favourite, which should take a bit of the pressure off us."
Opie Bosson, who has been aboard for seven of Shez Sinsational's 11 wins, retains the ride tomorrow, having formed a close bound with the mare.
"I'm sure Opie has got a soft spot for her," Sharrock said.
"She's just a lady for him, one of those nice horses. You can smack her on the arse and have her up handy or you can drop her out and when you ask, she gives you everything. Riders look for horses like that and they don't come along that often."
Sharrock admitted it would be a sad day when he farewelled Shez Sinsational at the end of July next year.
"She's a bonnie mare, one hell of a horse. I don't think people realise how good she really is," he said.
"She's a real horse - she's tough and tenacious and just runs through the pain barrier like good horses do. She's won $1.3 million and done a bloody good job."