The two-mile distance is a step into unknown territory for most Group 3 New Zealand Cup (3200m) contenders every year, but Nest Egg’s trainer Stephen Marsh has more confidence than most that his runner’s stamina will shine through at Riccarton on Saturday.
An impressive winner of both of his last two starts, Nest Egg holds hot favouritism at $4 among a capacity field of 18 plus six emergencies for the $300,000 staying showpiece.
For all of those runners apart from last year’s winner Aljay and runner-up Inmyshadow, former Group 2 Auckland Cup (3200m) winner Uareastar and former Group 3 Wellington Cup (3200m) winner Waisake, Saturday marks their first attempt at the gruelling 3200m distance.
Marsh expects Nest Egg to see out the testing trip, taking particular confidence from his dominant performance in the Listed Metropolitan Trophy (2600m) on the first day of the carnival last Saturday.
“He ran out a good, strong 2600 on the first day,” Marsh said. “With the two miles, you never know until they do it, but I think he’s about as close as you can get to a certainty of handling it. If ever there was a horse that looked like a two-miler, it’s him. I don’t think we’ll be walking away on Saturday using that as an excuse.
“His race last Saturday was a perfect dress rehearsal for the Cup, really. He had a nice, soft run in transit and Warren (Kennedy, jockey) didn’t really have to use him too much.
“When you’re backing up within the space of a week, it’s lovely to win, but it’s even better to have such an economical run and keep so much up your sleeve. He’s come through the race so well and hasn’t missed a beat. He’s bounced out of it and is looking great. I can’t fault him at all.”
Nest Egg remains on the minimum weight of 53kg for Saturday’s New Zealand Cup.
Marsh had hoped to have a second Cup runner in the form of Deels Done, who will instead take his place in the Bevan Laming 82 Today Premier (2600m). The eight-year-old son of Dundeel is a five-race winner and represents syndicators Go Racing, who have had a huge week with the likes of Group 1 Champions Stakes (2000m) winner Atishu, impressive Te Rapa two-year-old Velocious, and Riccarton carnival winner Seven Eleven.
“We’re happy with Deels Done,” Marsh said. “He would have gone around in the Cup as well if he’d made the field, but the 2500m Rating 82 is a nice back-up option.
“It’s been a terrific week for those Go Racing colours, they’re absolutely flying, and hopefully this horse can run another nice race for them on Saturday.”
Marsh also has a big team entered for Saturday’s northern meeting at Tauranga, where his 10 runners include promising pair Tossuforit and Double Vision, along with Mercurial.
The five-year-old Mercurial heads into that $50,000 open handicap in some of the best form of his career, having run strong placings in both of his last two starts. He was third behind Our Alley Cat and the subsequent stakes winner Not Guilty in the Group 3 Spring Sprint (1400m) at Hastings on October 14, then chased home Packing Rockstar in the Flying Mullet Sports Bar (1400m) at Tauranga earlier this month.
“Mercurial is going great this time in,” Marsh said. “He got to the front last time and just knocked off a bit, so we’ll put blinkers on this weekend and we’ve got Sam Spratt back on as well. He’s going super, he gets a nice swing in the weights and should be very competitive.”