Murray Baker could cap off a memorable weekend with Group success at Te Rapa on Saturday.
On the eve of the Waikato Racing Club’s premier meeting, Baker will become one of the latest inductees into the New Zealand Racing Hall Of Fame and less than 20 hours later he will saddle leading chances in both the Group 1 Herbie Dyke Stakes (2000m) and the Group 2 Cambridge Stud Sir Tristram Fillies Classic (2000m).
Baker won the Herbie Dyke Stakes when it was formerly known as the Whakanui Stud International Stakes in 2002 with Emerald Dream and he has also picked up a second in the weight-for-age feature with Tusker in 2006 and a third with Fatal in 1999.
This year he and training partner, Andrew Forsman, hold the key with Lizzie L’Amour, Coldplay and Nicoletta all set to compete for major honours.
Lizzie L’Amour stands out as the hardest to beat on the strength of her lead-up form, her good record at Te Rapa and her deeds at weight-for-age over 2000 metres.
She won last year’s Group 1 Bonecrusher New Zealand Stakes (2000m) at Ellerslie and was second there two starts ago behind Authentic Paddy in the Group 1 Cambridge Stud Zabeel Classic at the same distance and conditions.
“She’s done well and she likes Te Rapa,” Baker said. “She’s got to be hard to beat.”
Lizzie L’Amour has won three times from four starts at Te Rapa, including the 2016 Gr.3 Skycity Hamilton Waikato Cup (2400m) and last December’s Group Cal Isuzu Stakes (1600m).
The Cal Isuzu win was a welcome first-up relief for her connections after a disastrous four-start Melbourne spring campaign.
“Everything went wrong for her over there so it’s good to see her back in form,” Baker said.
Lizzie L’Amour goes into Saturday’s race with a last-start barnstorming second behind Thee Auld Floozie when dropping back from 2000 metres to 1400 in the Group 2 Westbury Classic at Ellerslie on Karaka Millions night.
She holds a nomination for the Group 1 Barfoot & Thompson Auckland Cup (3200m) on March 10, but she could instead be back to defend her Group One title in the New Zealand Stakes on the same day.
“It’s doubtful that she’ll go for the Auckland Cup,” Baker said.
Though Lizzie L’Amour will be the punter’s elect in the Herbie Dyke Stakes, Baker believes stablemates Coldplay (Opie Bosson) and Nicoletta (Rory Hutchings) shouldn’t be overlooked.
“Coldplay has only had a few cracks over ground and, if she gets the trip, she’s a chance,” Baker said. “As for Nicoletta, it’s a tough ask, but she’s a Group Three winner and she runs it out all right.”
Having provided the quinella in last year’s Sir Tristram Classic, Baker and Forsman will be hoping for a similar result in the fillies’ feature on Saturday with Milseain and Marcellina.
Milseain, a sister to Hong Kong star Werther, impressed when winning on debut at Hastings then finished well for third to quality filly Dijon Bleu in the Group 3 Desert Gold Stakes (1600m) at Trentham.
Marcellina, a Savabeel filly, was trapped wide when unplaced in the Karaka Million 3YO Classic (1600m) at Ellerslie and, although still a maiden after five starts, she did finish well for third behind Hello It’s Me in the Group 2 Stella Artois Royal Stakes (2000m) at Ellerslie on New Year’s Day.
“Milseain lacks a bit of ring craft, but she’s got ability,” Baker said. “Marcellina ran on well in the Royal Stakes and she was outpaced over 1600m last time, but we had to have a go.”