Michael Pitman rarely misses a Kumara Gold Nuggets, and the Riccarton trainer is gearing up for another busy afternoon at the iconic race meeting on Saturday.
The small town on the South Island’s West Coast has a permanent population of under 500, but as many as 20 times that number flock to the racecourse for its one meeting every January, headed by the NZD$30,000 Vernon & Vazey Truck Parts Kumara Gold Nuggets (1810m).
Pitman has had success in the open handicap feature in the past, most recently with Sun Valley in 2009, while his best result while training in partnership with son Matthew is a second placing with El Chico in 2015.
“Kumara is a very special meeting and a real highlight on the calendar in the South Island,” Pitman said. “A lot of people travel from far and wide to be there every year, and it’s always a hugely enjoyable day.
“We’ve had a bit of luck with two or three wins in the Gold Nuggets over the years, and hopefully we can be competitive again on Saturday.”
The Pitman stable has Rock Sensation, All About Magic and Cetus in the field for this year’s Gold Nuggets, while stablemate Cannoli is the third emergency.
Five-race winner Rock Sensation contested the Group 2 Coupland’s Bakeries Mile (1600m) earlier this season, and the five-year-old son of Rock ‘N’ Pop was a creditable last-start second in the Kurow Cup (1400m) on December 30.
“He ran really well in the Kurow Cup the other day, and he’s been crying out for more distance,” Pitman said.
“I think he’s going really well and should be a good chance this weekend, provided the track stays okay. The weather forecast isn’t great, but as long as it’s not heavy or on the worse side of slow, I think he should run well.
“He gets in very nicely at the weights. Having Kevin Myers’ horse at the top (Sacred Elixir, a former Group One winner for Tony Pike) pushes a lot of other good horses down to really nice weights for this race. It’s going to make it very interesting.”
All About Magic goes into the race as a last-start winner, scoring by a nose in Greymouth’s Miss Scenicland Stakes (1500m) on Monday. That was the Showcasing mare’s first win beyond 1400m.
“She’s been racing and working really well,” Pitman said. “I know she only fell in to win at Greymouth last time, but I was very confident going into that race.
“She’s a bit of an unknown up over ground, but I always say the best place to try a horse out over a longer distance is on these tight, turning tracks. If she doesn’t stay, it doesn’t matter – we can freshen her up for some nice races over shorter trips at Riccarton later on.
“She doesn’t have the best draw (gate 16), but it probably suits her better to draw out wide than down in gate one or two.
“Our other runner, Cetus, has had no luck in recent times. He’s been held up in all of his last three or four starts.
“Rain-affected ground will suit him, and with 51 kilograms on his back, we’ll be going forward on Saturday. If someone else wants to lead, they can, but we’ll definitely be very positive with Cetus.”
The Pitman team have a total of 16 runners entered across Saturday’s 10-race programme, and Michael Pitman highlighted Da Vinci Girl as a possible standout. The Zacinto mare was a dominant winner by 3.25 lengths at Reefton on Wednesday.
“We’ve got a big team entered all day, with quite a few nice chances,” he said. “Da Vinci Girl is a horse I’ve always thought a lot of. We ran her in some top races as a three-year-old filly, which is something we don’t do all that often with our horses.
“She’s come good this time in. She bolted in on Wednesday and she’s looking great. I hate drawing one, but hopefully she can produce a similar performance again.”
Meanwhile, the Pitman colours are traditionally a familiar feature of the Wellington Cup carnival at Trentham every January, but they will not be on show in 2022 following the abandonment of the Captain Cook Stakes raceday in December.
“It cost us several thousand dollars to take horses all the way up to Wellington last time, and all we got was $250 in compensation – the same as the horses that came from Manawatu,” Pitman said.
“So I’m refusing to go back there for their carnival this year, and I’m going to support some good South Island races with my horses instead.
“Miss Tycoon Rose will run in the Group 3 White Robe Lodge (1600m) in Dunedin on February 5.”