Tony Pike is pleased with progressive galloper Sacred Day heading into Thursday’s Listed Grafton Cup (2350m), but he has a fair handle on his main opposition.
A last-start winner at Doomben, Sacred Day has continued to impress Pike, but it is fellow Kiwi raider Igraine that the Cambridge horseman is wary of.
“He is way out of the handicap, but on his best New Zealand form he would be a chance,” Pike said.
“He has improved since his last run and he should get a good trip from gate one. He is a genuine each-way chance, but I think Igraine looks near-enough past the post.”
Pike is expecting the race to be run at a genuine tempo which should suit his runner.
“It looks like they are going to go pretty quick. It will be a solid speed and there are a couple of known leaders in the race,” he said.
“From gate one he is probably not going to have to be back last, so if we can be around midfield on the fence and put him to sleep, hopefully he gets his chance.
“I couldn't be happier with him, but Igraine looks the one to beat. We have been looking after her as well when Rob (trainer Robert Priscott) has not been here.
“Her work through the week has been fantastic and I would be surprised if she gets beaten. The track looks like it is going to have a bit of cut out of it too, which should suit her as well.
“I think they should both run good races and shouldn't be far away.”
Pike has made his presence felt in Queensland throughout the Winter Carnival and the astute horseman is hopeful his final runner from his Eagle Farm-base can make a similar impact when venturing into the Northern Rivers region of New South Wales.
“This will be the end of the road. Our horses are booked to go to Sydney on Sunday and fly home to New Zealand,” he said.
“It has been a great carnival. I think we're close to A$1.2 million in prize money. The Bostonian has been the big earner for the season but in general it has been pretty good. There were a couple that didn't quite come up to expectations but that happens when you bring a fair few over.
“Overall we're pretty happy with the carnival. You learn each year what you should bring over and what you shouldn't bring over. I can't complain as there certainly wasn't much happening at home and it is nice to be winning that sort of money at this time of the year.”
With an uplift in prizemoney and Queensland’s premier track, Eagle Farm, back in full use after an extended-period of renovation setbacks, Pike said the Queensland carnival was as competitive as ever.
“Bringing those older sprinting horses over can be hard work unless they're proper Group One or Group Two horses.
“Some of them are also badly off in the handicaps over here as well. A horse like Indecision came over here with a rating of near on 100 from New Zealand, which makes it pretty tough.
“With Eagle Farm back open, Godolphin brought a pretty solid team. It is one of those carnivals where you used to be able to bring over an average stayer and win, but I think they've got to be a bit better than that now.
“Even a race like the Grafton Cup, Ciaron Maher has got one in and Chris Waller has got a couple. They're certainly not mug races probably like they used to be, to be honest.”
Putting the sunshine of Queensland behind him, Pike has several reasons to maintain the spring in his step, with a number of promising prospects back in work at his Cambridge stable ahead of the new season.
“There are a couple of fillies that I think are going to be very competitive in the better three-year-old fillies races, namely Kali and also Loire,” he said.
Both fillies broke maiden ranks at Hawke’s Bay last term and the pair will be put on a path towards the Gr.1 Gavelhouse.com New Zealand 1000 Guineas (1600m) at Riccarton.
“We have a nice bunch of yearlings that are coming through. A few of them are going to have a jump-out on Friday. From the ones we bought at the sales, a few of them look like they are going to come up and make nice early two-year-olds.
“Endless Drama had his first gallop back yesterday morning. He's going to head to the Foxbridge Plate (Gr.2, 1200m) and then to the first two legs of the Hawke’s Bay triple crown.
“The Bostonian comes back in next Monday and he probably won't race this season in New Zealand and we will just work out whether we're heading to Melbourne or Sydney with him a bit closer to the time.”
Pike also reported that Hong Kong-owned Group Three winning juvenile Whiskey Neat would be continuing his career in Hong Kong.
“Two or three of the better ones have headed off this season, which is unfortunately pretty standard,” he said.
“We have sold a few along the way and a filly like Subpoena looked exceptional and was going to be a nice three-year-old filly, but she has gone to Sydney.
“Surely Sacred will also do his future racing in Hong Kong and the hardest thing is trying to keep some of those nicer three-year-olds in New Zealand, as there is not a lot for them once they are past their three-year-old year.” – NZ Racing Desk