Tony Pike’s classy pair of Harlow Rocks and Vera Rose put their hands up for loftier targets after playing the bridesmaid role at Te Rapa on Saturday.
Harlow Rocks, a daughter of Roc De Cambes, had shown early promise including a strong maiden victory in late November, before a switch to the right-handed track at Pukekohe was not to her liking in a first attempt at black-type on Boxing Day.
Cambridge-based Pike opted to scratch the filly from the Listed Oaks Prelude (1800m) in deteriorating New Plymouth conditions on February 3 in favour of contesting several headliners of the three-year-old fillies’ ranks in the Group 2 Fillies’ Classic (2000m).
Starting a $35 outside chance, Harlow Rocks was ridden positively out of barrier three by Ryan Elliot and took up the pace making role.
She remained in the leading position to the 200m mark, fighting bravely to be surpassed only by Molly Bloom in the closing stages, with a further 1-1/2 lengths to Livid Sky in third.
“I was very pleased with her, she’s a filly we’ve really liked and she’s kept improving all the way through this preparation,” Pike said.
“We had scratched her off the wet track at New Plymouth the week before which was the easier race, it was a very strong field on Saturday with high-quality fillies and she really put her hand up.
“She’s a lot better left-handed, she got quite awkward last start at Pukekohe going right-handed, so we were reasonably confident we would see an improved run back left-handed at Te Rapa.”
Following Saturday’s performance, the Oaks Stud-bred and owned filly shortened into $12 in a widening futures market for the Group 1 New Zealand Oaks (2400m), Pike indicating the Trentham feature now being her main target.
“She looks like she’ll stay, so at this stage she’ll progress through to the Lowland Stakes (Group 2, 2100m) at Hastings on the 28th, and all going well, she’ll progress onto the Oaks.”
Another representing Dick Karreman’s Cambridge nursery was Vera Rose, the tough Fiorente filly finishing a highly-creditable third in the inaugural $350,000 Karapiro Classic (1600m) later on the Te Rapa card.
In the hands of new Swedish arrival Per-Anders Graberg, Vera Rose tracked eventual second-placegetter Hasstobeawinner throughout on the fence before maintaining a solid sprint to the post, the pair only denied late in a sensational late dash by Wallen.
“We decided to leave her at the mile again, as well as being the Sir Patrick Hogan Karapiro Classic for the first time, we wanted to support the race with great prizemoney on offer,” Pike said.
“She was given a great trip by Per-Anders, it was a big run against some seasoned older horses.”
The filly also holds a nomination for the Oaks on March 16, but Pike will test her staying abilities first in the Group 3 Sunline Vase (2100m) at Ellerslie on March 2.
“She’s definitely heading the right way, but it’s a bit of a question mark whether she’ll stay. Being by Fiorente (former Melbourne Cup winner), she should, but she’s out of quite a fast family.
“We’ll probably head to the Sunline Vase next, that will tell us if she’ll get the Oaks trip or not. If not, there will probably be some nice options for her in Australia as well, back in trip slightly.”
Pike will head to Ellerslie on Saturday with a talented team, including consistent four-year-olds Rudyard and Churchillian, the latter returning after a brief fresh-up following her Group 3 Anniversary Handicap (1600m) triumph at Trentham in mid-January.
A son of Charm Spirit, Rudyard topped five top-four finishes this campaign with a third-placing behind Group 1-winning pair Desert Lightning and Legarto in the $1 million Aotearoa Classic (1600m) on Karaka Millions Night.
Both horses will contest the Open 1500m on Saturday, with the Group 3 Manco Easter Handicap (1600m) a potential aim for Rudyard, while an attempt at Group 1 level next month may arise for Churchillian.
“If she keeps stepping up, we may give her a chance at the New Zealand Thoroughbred Breeders’ Stakes (Group 1, 1600m) at Te Aroha,” he said.
Pike will also have two representatives in the Group 2 Avondale Guineas (2100m) with High Country and City Gold Ready, both geldings potential hopes for the Group 1 New Zealand Derby (2400m) on March 2.
“They both look like nice staying three-year-olds in good form, so they’ll head to the Guineas,” he said.