Ritchie close but no cigar

Jennifer Eccles
Jennifer Eccles is on target for the Group 1 Al Basti Equiworld Dubai New Zealand Oaks (2400m) in March Photo: Trish Dunell

Shaune Ritchie came close to a big double at Trentham on Saturday, but left the meeting knowing his smart filly Jennifer Eccles is still on the right path for a return trip to the course in March to contest the Group 1 Al Basti Equiworld Dubai New Zealand Oaks (2400m).

Following on from her win in the Group 2 Eight Carat Classic (1600m) at Ellerslie on Boxing Day, Jennifer Eccles produced a big effort for third in the Group 3 Desert Gold Stakes (1600m), while The Good Fight charged home to go down a half-head to Soleseifei in the Group 3 Wellington Cup (3200m).

Stablemate Excalibur also contested the Wellington Cup and finished seventh, five and a half lengths from Soleseifei. “It was always going to be a problem from the wide draw with Jennifer Eccles and if she drew well she would probably have won,” Ritchie said. “I feel if she had gone forward mid-race she would have been planted wide so there wasn’t much else Sam (Weatherley, jockey) could do.

“She still ran the last 600m faster than anything else (32.25 seconds) and from an Oaks point of view it was a good run. “She’s had a look at Trentham now and her next two runs will be over 2000m and 2100m and, if at any point 2000m is an issue, I’ll re-evaluate things and look to drop her back to 1600m. But for now she’s on target for the Oaks.”

Jennifer Eccles will start next in the Group 2 Fillies Classic (2000m) at Te Rapa on February 8 and top off her preparation for the New Zealand Oaks on March 14 with a start in the Group 2 Little Avondale Lowland Stakes (2100m) at Hastings on February 26.

The Good Fight, Excalibur and stablemate Daytona Red are also entered for the Group 1 Barfoot & Thompson Auckland Cup (3200m) at Ellerslie on March 7. “The Good Fight was a bit unlucky not to win as he got shuffled back at the wrong time, but then again the winner (Soleseifei) had a tough run three-wide,” Ritchie said. “There’s no set plan to run him in the Auckland Cup. He’s still in, but we’ll make a decision toward the end of the week. “He was as fit as I could have him on Saturday and there’s no improvement in him. “He’s having a week on the water walker now and, if we decide not to go to the Auckland Cup, we’ll back off and may consider taking him to Queensland or Sydney.

“As for Excalibur, he went all right and it’s likely we’ll press on for the Auckland Cup with him. He will probably run in the Avondale Cup (Group 2, 2400m) at Ellerslie then the Auckland Cup.”

Daytona Red will be out to keep his Auckland Cup prospects alive when he starts this Saturday in a Rating 82 2400m at Trentham, the scene of his win in the Listed New Zealand St Leger (2500m) 22 months ago. Daytona Red was sidelined with a tendon injury after his St Leger victory and made his comeback with an eye-catching third over 1600m at Te Rapa last month before running on late for sixth to Gorbachev in the Taupo Cup (2000m). “He’s still on track for the Auckland Cup, but will have to justify a start by winning on Saturday,” Ritchie said. “If he does win, he’ll probably run in the Avondale Cup as a lead-up to the Auckland Cup.”

Ritchie also has Swords Drawn nominated for the Auckland Cup, but the promising stayer is having a spell since his unlucky ninth in the Dunstan Feeds Stayers Championship Final (2400m) at Ellerslie on New Year’s Day. Bella Mente also raced over the Ellerslie Carnival, finishing fourth to Travelling Light in the Listed Uncle Remus Stakes (1400m). “I feel she’s a length below the top fillies,” Ritchie said. “She’ll go for the 1300m race at Ellerslie on Derby Day (Listed Mufhasa Fasttrack Stakes) as a dress rehearsal for the Wellington Guineas (Group 2, 1400m) at Trentham.”