Tony Pike’s high-performance stable has three further chances on Saturday to cap off another successful season for the Cambridge horseman.
Guaranteed to finish third on the New Zealand Trainer’s Premiership with a current tally of 61 winners, Pike will be represented by three runners at Te Rapa with a pair of leading contenders in each of the main events on the card.
Smart filly Pacific Dragon will bid for a deserved black-type victory in the Listed Courtesy Ford Ryder Stakes (1200m) while River Run will attempt to complete a hat-trick of wins in the Taumarunui RSA Gold Cup (2200m).
Pike will be keeping an eye on his charges from afar as he is currently recharging his batteries in Australia ahead of a new domestic racing season.
“I’m actually in Darwin at the moment, we came out here for Cup week and a break away for a few days,” he said.
Pacific Dragon has won two of her eight starts, including a last-start success at Ruakaka, and claimed the Group 2 Eclipse Stakes (1200m) at Ellerslie on New Year’s Day, only to be relegated to second in the inquiry room.
“She got that taken off her so it would be nice to get a stakes win as a two-year-old,” Pike said.
“She goes into this third-up this preparation and if she handles the track she should be extremely hard to beat.
“She doesn’t mind a bit of cut in the ground and is extremely fit, but there will be a question mark on Saturday.”
Pacific Dragon was bought out of Windsor Park’s draft at Karaka last year for $70,000 by Victorian trainer Henry Dwyer on behalf of Swettenham Stud and her long-term future has yet to be confirmed.
She was placed with Pike with the Karaka Million (1200m) in mind and the daughter of Charm Spirit finished a meritorious fifth after a tardy start and an interrupted run.
“I haven’t really talked with the crew yet, this race was the target for this preparation so we’ll get through Saturday first and then have a chat,” Pike said.
“She could possibly head to Hawke’s Bay for one of the fillies’ races down there. While she’s going well there is a possibility she could stay, but obviously she will end up in Melbourne.”
River Run claimed the Te Awamutu Cup (1600m) on the course two runs back and was then a decisive middle-distance winner at Ruakaka.
“He’s a bit of an old marvel and a stable favourite and he’s obviously come up as well as ever,” Pike said.
“He’s has got up in the weights rather quickly and won off the minimum and then had to carry 60kg in the stayers’ race last time.
“He was pretty dominant and he’s got to carry that weight again, but Te Rapa seems to be his favourite track and he always races well there so he should be very competitive again. He’s in the best form we’ve had him for a long time.”
Pike’s Te Rapa representation will be completed by the enigmatic Dawn Parade in the Bob and Colleen Donaldson Memorial (1400m).
“He’s a frustrating horse and has plenty of ability, but lacks a bit of application,” he said.
“He’s the sort of horse that could put away a field like this by three or four lengths if he turned up in the right frame of mind, he’s just a hard one to catch.”
Pike will also have a number of runners at the Te Rapa trial meeting next Tuesday.
“We’ll have a dozen or so, but it’s in the lap of the Gods at the moment with the weather. We had a pretty soft start to the winter and it’s catching up with us now,” he said.
Among the higher-profile horses set to trial is the talented, but injury-plagued multiple Group winner Catalyst.
“It’s so far, so good with him and he will have a jump-out on Friday morning and then hopefully trial on Tuesday,” Pike said.
“Obviously, we are crossing our fingers with him and hope to have him back to somewhere near his best. Hawke’s Bay is in the back of our minds, but we need to get through the trials before we make a decision where he will kick off.”