Jockey dilemma for English Gambler

English Gambler is set to contest the Manawatu ITM Awapuni Hurdle (3000m) at Woodville on Sunday. Photo: Kenton Wright (Race Images)

The Manawatu ITM Awapuni Hurdle (3000m) has not been a kind race to quality hurdler English Gambler, and the week leading into his third shot at the $60,000 feature at Woodville this Sunday has caused more headaches for his trainer Lauren Brennan.

The son of Casino Prince has run in the Awapuni Hurdle in each of the last two years, finishing fourth in 2022 and being pulled up a year later.

On both occasions, he was tripped up by gruelling Heavy 10 tracks at Trentham.

English Gambler kicked off his 2024 jumping season on a promising note with a bold front-running win at Te Rapa on May 4.

However, after seeing an unfavourable weather forecast earlier this week, Brennan had serious reservations about committing to a third tilt at the Awapuni Hurdle.

Woodville ended up missing the worst of that weather and was rated a Soft 6 on Friday, but now those few days of uncertainty have caused a different issue.

“The horse has been doing really well since his win at Te Rapa,” Brennan said.

“Earlier in the week I thought we were very unlikely to go to this race because of how the weather was shaping up, but now it’s looking like the Woodville track won’t be too bad.

“The problem we have now is trying to find someone to ride him. The jockeys all made other bookings when we thought we weren’t going to run. We might end up needing a scratching to free someone up to ride him. We’ll just have to wait and see what happens.”

English Gambler was guided to his Te Rapa victory by Hamish McNeill, who has a commitment to ride the promising Paul Nelson and Corinna McDougal-trained runner Taika at Woodville this week.

Despite the uncertainty, bookmakers still rates English Gambler a $5 equal favourite for Sunday’s Awapuni Hurdle.

Remarkably, he shares that quote with three other runners in the 12-horse field – Berry The Cash, Taika and Oxygen.

Meanwhile, Brennan will also have representation at Pukekohe on Saturday with talented four-year-old Asgard contesting the TAB NZ (2100m).

This will be the first start beyond 1600m for the four-year-old Almanzor gelding, who was a five-length maiden winner at Otaki two starts ago.

“He’s going really well,” Brennan said.

“This is his first time up over ground, so hopefully Joe (Doyle, jockey) will be able to get him to relax and he can run it out strongly.”

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