Cambridge trainer Shaune Ritchie is taking advantage of the training conditions on offer in the winterless north and hopes to capitalise when he lines up a trio of runners at Ruakaka on Sunday.
Ritchie views Tumbleweed, She’s A Smash Hit and All Paid Up as winning prospects at the Northland meeting and said they have benefited from an extended visit to the racing and training facility two hours north of Auckland. “We’ve got eight horses up there at present and those three are part of the team that went up there last week,” Ritchie said. “We’re likely to swap them around and bring them home and send another lot up next week or the week after.”
Ritchie said there were several benefits to wintering members of his spring arsenal in the warmer climes of Ruakaka, including use of better grass gallops, beach access and a temperature increase that brings the horses forward. “We’re restricted here in the Waikato with how heavy the tracks are and how much we can push them and stretch them right out. Whereas, even if we are there for seven days we can get two gallops into them and blow the cobwebs out of their lungs and open them up and have a little bit of a sprint to see where we’re at with them. “Within 24 hours their coats start coming out and the fact that it’s about four or five degrees warmer overnight, they really do come on.
“I had a chat with Stephen Marsh, who has also got a team up there, and he was surprised how well they do in that environment. “If you’re in any other part of New Zealand, once you get rain for two or three days, you get mud for four or five days. In Ruakaka, the moment it stops raining, within half an hour you’re standing on dry sand again. Little things they may have like greasy heal or minor hiccups, they just seem to go away.”
Ritchie said on non-gallop days he was making extensive use of Ruakaka’s beach, which was proving a useful mental aid to many of his steeds. “Their whole mental attitude is so much better, there’s no doubt it takes a bit of extra time to work them and walk them in the water on the beach but that’s the whole idea. “If you’re permanently there, that advantage probably disappears but when you go up for a short spurt, how much they improve is remarkable.”
Wintering horses in a warmer climate is nothing new, with the legendary Irish trainer Vincent O’Brien an advocate of the practice, taking horses to Italy for that purpose in the 1960s. “I’ve been doing it since I began in partnership with Dad, probably the best part of 25- years,” Ritchie said. “In one of the boxes there that we used to use as a feed room there’s a bit of chalk and some of the old horse names are still there from more than 20 years ago.”
Three-year-old filly Tumbleweed will tackle older horses as she looks to break maiden ranks but with Ashvin Goindasamy’s 3kg claim, Ritchie rates her a strong chance of breaking through. “She’s got to be hard to beat with 51kgs and she’s a go-forward horse. With the light weight, if she can get a soft sectional somewhere in front, she can skip away and be hard to beat,” Ritchie said.
Another go-forward type is She’s A Smash Hit, who finished second on debut at Ruakaka last month. “I’m not hell bent on her leading and I wouldn’t mind her taking a trail but she’s very effective out of the gates,” Ritchie said. “She’ll certainly be in the first three or four in the run and she showed some greenness on debut which she should have learned a lot from. I expect her to be hard to beat.”
All Paid Up will represent the stable in the Hirepool (1200m) and although Ritchie believes the four-year-old will get over ground this season and might be one run away from his best, he is expecting a bold showing fresh.
Meanwhile, Ritchie is looking forward to spring racing with five-year-old gelding The Good Fight, an impressive winner over 1400m when resuming at Te Rapa last week. “He’s nominated for the Livamol (Group 1, 2040m) but very unlikely to run,” Ritchie said. “He’s in such a sweet position in the handicaps and I’m pretty keen on an Australian campaign. “We’re considering going straight to Ruakaka over 2000m in three weeks’ time or Sydney for a couple of rating based races there which is particularly appealing considering all the prizemoney over there. “We’ll almost certainly put a nomination in for a race like the Metropolitan (Group 1, 2400m) and if he could win a couple of those rating races along the way, he’d get into the Metropolitan with a light weight.”
In-form galloper Sultan of Swing will be kept to his preferred tracks of Te Rapa and Ellerslie where possible, with a tilt at the Group 1 Windsor Park Plate (1600m) at Hawke’s Bay a potential option given his awkward position in the ratings.
Ritchie is also delighted with the progress of three-year-old filly Bella Mente. Group 1 placed at two, Ritchie has high-hopes for the daughter of El Roca this campaign. “She’s come up superb, she’s in great order,” Ritchie said. “I’m going to have lunch with (part-owner) Russell Warwick next week and work out where we go. We’ve got so many options. “She’ll trial at Te Rapa next week and then we’ll see how she pulls up and start making some decisions after that. “She’s an exciting filly and we expect to see her in the better three-year-old races through the season.”