A good percentage of Mark and Cath Lupton's racing team will tackle Saturday's Gr.2 Travis Stakes (2000m) at Te Rapa.
The couple co-bred and co-own six-year-old Raise The Flag mare Etah James and race Savabeel five-year-old mare Yearn, with Mark Lupton training Etah James himself and leaving the conditioning of Yearn to Matamata trainer Karen Fursdon.
"It's a bit odd, training one to race against another one we own but they raced together in a sprint at Te Aroha earlier this month, though that was far too short for Etah James," Lupton said.
While failing to threaten that day, the step up to 2000m second-up has Lupton optimistic he can cause a boilover with a Etah James, who has won six of her 16 starts, including the Gr.3 Lord Reims Stakes (2600m) in Adelaide as well as finishing second in last year’s Listed Bagot Handicap (2800m) at Flemington.
"Her best form is past 2000m but she's won before at 2000m and she's really come on since Te Aroha. She galloped really well this (Thursday) morning and we're hoping she goes a good race anyway," Lupton said of the $71 outsider.
"She's rough in the market but some pretty good judges this time last year were rating her as one of the most promising stayers in Australia before the wheels fell off in the spring."
While Etah James' form dropped away, Lupton said she suffered ligament issues and was tying up in her shoulders, hence her return to New Zealand to recuperate.
"We've got her back ticking over nicely now and if she goes a good race on Saturday, we'll probably send her back to Australia. She's a staying mare and there's not much for her in New Zealand.
"I've never really used Andrew Calder before but we think he'll be a good fit for her. We just want to make sure that it's run at a true pace. If Nicoletta starts getting away with soft sectionals, we've told Andrew we want to turn it into a true staying race."
Better fancied in the market is Yearn, a $12 fifth favourite off her fast-finishing third in last Saturday's Gr.2 Easter Handicap (1600m) at Ellerslie.
"She's being tried over ground for the first time. She has never really done much over a mile till last week," Lupton said.
"But the way she finished off and covered the ground, we thought we'd put her in and roll the dice. Apparently, she galloped well this morning.
"We're not holding our breath that she'll run out a strong 2000m but she's going well and she'll go out after this one. Hopefully we can get a line on her at 2000m so we know what we should do with her for next preparation.
"That's the best race she's gone, last week, and that was coming from back and wide and she's run home in quick splits. We'd have love to have got the run the winner got. She's not big but she's got a big heart, so here's hoping." - NZ Racing Desk