Progressive stayer Excalibur confirmed he is on target to tackle the Gr.1 Barfoot & Thompson Auckland Cup (3200m) in a fortnight with a dashing victory at Hastings.
Trainer Shaune Ritchie was bullish about the four-year-olds chances prior to the start of the Aquashield New Zealand St. Leger Trial (2100m), with that confidence well placed as Excalibur produced a sustained finish from well back to claim a decisive one and a quarter length victory in the event.
“He was particularly well weighted in this race and he is unbeaten at 2100m,” said Ritchie.
“We’ve found the trick to him which is to ride him cold and let him drop out. He can take off early and sustain a run.”
Rider Matthew Cameron followed those instructions to the letter as he settled the Tavistock gelding towards the rear of the ten-horse field as Bizzwinkle set a solid pace at the head of affairs.
Cameron got busy at the 700m mark as he looped the field to issue a challenge on the point of the home turn. Excalibur hit top gear in the final stages as he forged clear to defeat Bizzwinkle with outsider Eyes Wide Open battling on gamely for third.
“If he was going to justify his spot in the Auckland Cup he had to win today and win well,” said Ritchie.
“He had to go early as he is a bit one paced, but he hit the line hard so two miles looks exciting for us.
“He will go straight into the Auckland Cup now as it’s only two weeks away. He is out of a Stravinsky mare who is out of a Zabeel mare so there is plenty of staying blood to suggest he will get the two miles of the Cup.”
Bookmakers reacted to the victory by tightening Excalibur into $12 on the Fixed Odds market for the Barfoot & Thompson Auckland Cup which is headed by Ladies First at a $5 quote.
The win also provided the perfect entrée for Ritchie who produced Devise to score her maiden Group One victory in the Haunui Farm WFA Group One Classic (1600m) just one race later.