Progressive galloper Helena Baby faces his toughest assignment to date when he tackles a star-studded field in the Gr.2 U S Navy Flag Foxbridge Plate (1200m) at Te Rapa on Saturday.
But trainer John Bell has full confidence in his lightly-tried five-year-old as he attempts to go one better than stablemate Julius, who was beaten a nose last year by reigning Horse of the Year Melody Belle.
Spring might not yet have sprung, but a host of Group One stars will assemble at Te Rapa on Saturday, with Melody Belle and boom stablemate Te Akau Shark amongst the nominations.
A traditional launching pad to Spring riches, the Foxbridge Plate also heralds the return of Group One winners Consensus, Santa Monica, Authentic Paddy and Sentimental Miss, while the Tony Pike-trained Group Two winner Endless Drama is fresh-up following his last start third in the Gr.1 Stradbroke Handicap (1400m) in Brisbane.
Despite the step-up in class, Bell is pleased with Helena Baby, who routed his rivals in the Listed Opunake Cup (1400m) last month, and believes he can make that quantum leap.
“He had a freshen-up since his win at Taranaki and the little bit of fast-work he has had has been on the course proper and the sectionals have been very satisfying,” he said.
“He has got fresh legs and I have no issues with him coming back to 1200m.
“We are going to ride our own race and not worry about Melody Belle and Te Akau Shark or any of the other top horses.
“He steps up to weight-for-age but we are very comfortable with where we are at and I am looking forward to it.”
Helena Baby has won his past five races and has stepped through the grades to be rated 88, ten points inferior to his ultra-talented but injury-plagued stablemate Julius when he contested the race last year.
“They are different types of horses but they have the same strength, determination and class,” Bell said.
“This horse has carried lower weights and come through the grades.”
Owned in Hong Kong, there is a chance that New Zealand racing fans will only see Helena Baby on two more occasions, with the Gr.1 Tarzino Trophy (1400m) on August 31 also on the radar.
“At this stage, there is a possibility of him going into quarantine on September 3 to head up to Hong Kong,” Bell said.
Helena Baby will once again be ridden by South African Donavan Mansour, who has created a good impression in his second stint in New Zealand after relocating with his wife and two sons last season.
“I identified his professionalism and ability when he first came over,” Bell said.
“He is dedicated and is a great family man, which is important to me. He is polite and does his homework and I supported him heavily earlier on and now he is doing so well it is sometimes hard to get hold of him, which is a great thing.
“I think there are a lot of young riders who could take a leaf out of Donavan’s book.”
Bell is also pleased to have quality sprinter Julius back in the stable as he continues on the comeback trail following a tendon injury.
“He came in two weeks ago and is on the walker until the end of the month. From the beginning of September, he will go to the track. It will be small steps from there.” – NZ Racing Desk