Cambridge trainer Murray Baker knows what it takes to plunder marquee races in Australia and the astute horseman, who trains in partnership with Andrew Forsman, is once again honing-in on lucrative spring targets across the Tasman.
A select team of horses will target features in Sydney and Melbourne as Baker looks to add to his Australian Group One haul, which stands at an impressive 21, with Baker rating his squad on par with previous years.
“I think they’re on target. Naturally, when they get over there they should improve,” he said.
“We’ve got two three-year-olds going to Sydney this weekend in Quick Thinker and Rhaegar and they have got to prove they are up to the class, but we have got to give them their chance.
“We think they are both staying horses and when they get out to a mile and beyond, they should be at their best.
“I think the New Zealand horses have proven over the decades they can stay and if they measure up, they’re a chance to get some of it.”
Both Quick Thinker and Rhaegar were Listed winners at two and the pair enjoyed a hit-out at the Te Rapa trials on Tuesday to further their preparations.
“They might run on Saturday week in the Ming Dynasty (Gr.3, 1400m) at Rosehill,” Baker said.
“If they’re up to the class they will step through the three-year-old colts races which culminates in the Gloaming (Gr.3, 1800m) and the Spring Champion Stakes (Gr.1, 2000m).”
Dual Group One winner Madison County will spearhead a team of three bound for Melbourne, and looks to have returned in good order ahead of his four-year-old assignments after trialling well at Taupo on Wednesday.
The China Horse Club-owned son of Pins finished fourth in the Gr.1 Randwick Guineas (1600m), and second in both the Gr.2 Tulloch Stakes (2000m) and Gr.1 Australian Derby (2400m) despite an interrupted campaign.
“He didn’t quite get the rub of the green in a couple of races in the autumn and he was a late scratching in the Rosehill Guineas (Gr.1, 2000m) when he bumped his hip on the float going to the races. It just put him a race behind but he still ran well in Sydney,” Baker said.
“He will probably be back racing towards the end of September. We will trial him in Melbourne and see where he goes from there.
“He has got some class and I think he should go well over there. He is more a mile or 2000m horse, so there are plenty of options for him. He is not a big horse, but I’d like to think he will measure up at weight-for-age.”
Fellow four-year-old The Chosen One also stretched his legs when finishing third in a trial at Taupo and the Savabeel entire is set to join Madison County in Melbourne.
“He’s a horse that I think has got a lot of potential,” Baker said of the multiple Group Three winner.
“His two runs in Sydney in autumn were outstanding. He drew barrier 17 in the Australian Derby (Gr.1, 2400m) and had to go back to last. To get home for fourth was a terrific effort.
“He franked that by winning the Frank Packer Plate (Gr.3, 2000m), again coming from last, and that family usually gets going when they’re four years old. They seem to go better with time.
“He might just take a race or two, as he is a four-year-old stallion, but we’re happy with him. We’d like to think that he ends up a good horse. We think he will stay and he could be a good Caulfield Cup (Gr.1, 2400m) type of horse.”
Baker is still mulling over plans for three-year-old colt Long Jack, who he said could be set on a path towards the Gr.1 VRC Derby (2500m).
“We are still making up our mind about Long Jack and he is bred to stay. We will just play that one by ear.
“He is still a maiden and was narrowly beaten both times, but I would hope he could win his maiden and then get his career underway.”
Baker is looking forward to the jovial banter of the Flemington trainers’ tower as the Melbourne Spring Carnival hits top gear in the coming months.
“There is nothing better than being in Melbourne in the spring. The atmosphere is terrific, the racing is great and it is just a buzz to step onto the racecourse.”
Meanwhile, Baker and Forsman have plenty to look forward to on the home front, with quality three-year-old filly Aretha winning a strong trial at Taupo on Wednesday and is likely to be aimed at the Gr.1 New Zealand 1000 Guineas (1600m) in November.
The winner of the Gr.2 Matamata Breeders’ Stakes (1200m) as a juvenile, Aretha was narrowly beaten when placed in the Gr.1 Diamond Stakes (1200m) and Gr.1 Manawatu Sires’ Produce (1400m), while she also placed in the Gr.2 Wakefield Challenge Stakes (1100m).
“She has shown very good form. Her four starts at two were all in Group races,” Baker said.
“We couldn’t have asked for much more of her as a two-year-old and she looks to have come up well. She is tough and she can take a position, which is always a positive.” – NZ Racing Desk