Trainer Tony Pike has all bases covered with his quintet of runners set to tackle Saturday’s bumper meeting at Ellerslie.
The Cambridge horseman will be represented by hardy veterans Endless Drama and Rangipo in the Gr.2 Manco Easter Handicap (1600m), while earlier on the program the stocks of his up-and-comers are set to rise.
Among those progressive youngsters is the lightly-raced filly Intrigue, who tackles stakes company for the first time in the Gr.2 Valachi Downs Championship Stakes (2100m).
The three-year-old daughter of Showcasing has won two of her four starts including a last-start demolition of her rivals over 2100m at Pukekohe.
“She’s flying,” Pike said. “She just gets better with each run. She was a bit green to start off with but she’s stepping up all the time and was pretty dominant over 2100m last start.
“She’s a really good progressive staying filly and her work has been outstanding. I wouldn’t be surprised to see her go out and win again on Saturday.”
Pike harbours ambitions of taking Intrigue to Queensland for a tilt at the Gr.1 Queensland Oaks (2400m), a race he won with Provocative in 2016, and is hoping to bank the lion’s share of Saturday’s prize-money to guarantee a start in the classic.
“It’s really prize-money based,” Pike said. “As long as she runs well, she’ll go over.
“In an ideal world, she wins then we’ve got no worries about prize-money. If she runs second, then we’re probably only a chance of getting into the races we want to, so really, we need to run one or two to be confident of a start in the races we want to in Queensland.”
Pike is also looking forward to unleashing strapping two-year-old colt Sherwood Forest in the Listed Buffalo & Co Champagne Stakes (1600m).
Sherwood Forest has been to the races just once when finishing a good fourth at Te Rapa in early February.
“He got really colty at Te Rapa that day, it was just a bit busy for him and he got pretty wound up before he even raced,” Pike said.
“We backed off him since then and he trialled sensationally on Monday at Te Awamutu.”
Sherwood Forest will sport blinkers for the first time on raceday on Saturday but wore the headgear to good effect when winning Monday’s 1000m trial.
“I think he’s a pretty serious racehorse and I just think he wants to get over ground,” Pike said.
“He’s a nice big scopey two-year-old and he’s going to develop into a lovely three-year-old.
“It’s pretty unusual to have a two-year-old fresh-up over a mile but it’s just the type of horse he is. He looks like a three-year-old now and looks a genuine staying type so I think he’s one of the few horses that will thrive at the 1600m on Saturday.”
Saturday’s Easter Handicap has drawn a capacity field, with 20 runners to greet the starter and as the equal top-rated runner Endless Drama will carry top-weight of 59kgs.
Previously trained by Chris Waller, Endless Drama was sent over for the Gr.1 Haunui Farm WFA Classic (1600m) at Otaki in February but failed to fire and was subsequently transferred to Pike.
Around the mark in both runs since, Pike is expecting Endless Drama to be ridden patiently on Saturday, like he was last weekend when closing well for second behind Princess Kereru over 1200m.
“He’s a lovely big bull of a horse and he’s got a pretty good nature for a seven-year-old stallion, so the 59kgs is not going to worry him too much,” Pike said.
“He’s an older horse now and has a few niggly issues but he’s bounced through Saturday really well and I think he will just get the mile if he is ridden cold.”
Pike said he was expecting Rangipo to run a cheeky race on the back of a good recent trial victory.
“He’s drawn a wide gate, so he’ll go forward on Saturday. It’s probably the last roll of the dice, we’ve targeted this race for him this preparation. He’s an honest old boy but not quite what he was.”
Earlier on the card Pike’s last-start winner The Faith will step out in a strong three-year-old 1400m event.
“It’s not a very big field, but it’s a really strong field,” Pike said. “She’s been a little bit slow to pick up on things, but we’ll get a good line on her after Saturday.” – NZ Racing Desk