Te Akau aiming to capture local juvenile spoils

Captured By Love will contest the Group 2 Matamata Breeders’ Stakes (1200m) on Saturday. Photo: Peter Rubery (Race Images Palmerston North)

This Saturday’s juvenile features at Matamata are set to paint a clearer picture for upcoming Group 1 targets, and Te Akau Racing co-trainer Sam Bergerson is hoping for good showings from his high-class trio.

Bergerson, who trains in partnership with Mark Walker, will prepare Move To Strike and Unbridled Joy in the Group 3 Matamata Slipper (1200m), while unbeaten filly Captured By Love will attempt a fourth-straight victory in the Group 2 Matamata Breeders’ Stakes (1200m).

A son of I Am Invincible, Move To Strike justified his scorching $1.20 favouritism on debut in December, but succumbed to talented stablemate Bellatrix Star at a similar quote in the Group 2 Eclipse Stakes (1200m) on New Year’s Day.

“He was a very short-priced favourite that day and got rolled, but Bellatrix Star and Velocious were right there in the blanket finish, so it is very good form,” Bergerson said.

“He’s just such a laid-back customer at home, we would’ve loved to get a trial into him between then and Saturday, but unfortunately with how the schedule has worked out, getting a grass trial didn’t work out.

“He had an exhibition gallop at Matamata mid-week last week instead, and his work was super with an older horse. Opie (Bosson, jockey) rode him that day, and was pleased with him.

“The blinkers go on, and we hope this will sharpen him up a bit. He’s a colt we’ve always had a lot of time for.”

Punters have remained faithful to Move To Strike, backing him into $1.80 favouritism, while Bergerson is not discounting the chances of stablemate Unbridled Joy, who currently sits as the $7 equal third-favourite with Sam Weatherley engaged to ride.

Unbridled Joy finished only behind fellow Te Akau runner When Stars Align on debut, and soon found the winner’s circle at his next attempt, with little favours in the running.

“He’s certainly gone the right way since his win, he found a lot of trouble that day and still managed to get himself out of it and find the line really well,” Bergerson said.

“Sam rode him on Tuesday and his work was super, he’s improved a lot and should be a nice chance as well, albeit in a strong field. He’s got a nice barrier (2), he should get a lovely run in behind the speed on Saturday.”

Te Akau have claimed six of the last eight editions of the Matamata Slipper, most recently last year’s race with champion two-year-old Tokyo Tycoon.

“It is a small field this year, but there is quality in there with Karaka Million form, and Cambridge Stud’s colts (Red Sea and I’m All In). It’s going to shape up as a very interesting race,” Bergerson said.

The fillies’ race promises an exciting match-up between Captured By Love, and Listed Wellesley Stakes (1100m) victor Archaic Smile, alongside the Kelsos emphatic debut winner Alabama Lass.

A daughter of Written Tycoon, Captured By Love left her rivals fighting for minor placings in the Group 2 Wakefield Challenge Stakes (1100m) at Trentham, and overcame unfavourable conditions at Taranaki to score the Group 3 Taranaki 2YO Classic (1200m) on February 3.

“She didn’t love the heavy track at New Plymouth, but she toughed it out and class got her over the line. She had a nice quiet week after that, and her work on Tuesday was good with Opie on the course proper,” Bergerson said.

“It’s hard to line-up the form in the Breeders’, but we’ve got the experience and runs on the board and we’re really happy with her. There are some high-quality fillies’ there and the group one picture following Saturday will become a lot clearer.”

Bergerson indicated each of the Te Akau two-year-olds would be aimed at the Group 1 Sistema Stakes (1200m) at Ellerslie on March 9, while all hold nominations for the Group 1 Manawatu Sires’ Produce (1400m) three weeks’ later at Trentham.

“Getting through Saturday, the logical race for the three of them is the Sistema Stakes, but whether we split them up or not, we’re still not sure. They’ll have to run well, but ideally they’ll head in that direction,” he said.

Te Akau will also be represented by capable duo Aotea Lad and Accidental Tourist in the Listed Matamata Veterinary Services Equine Kaimai Stakes (2000m), partnered by Bosson and Billy Jacobson respectively.

“Aotea Lad produced a good tough run at Ellerslie on Saturday, he did a lot of work from a wide barrier but stuck on really well. We’ve taken a throw at the stumps with the quick back-up, but he seems in good form, carries a lot of condition and handles his racing well,” Bergerson said.

“Accidental Tourist was well outclassed in the Aotearoa Classic, but on his day he is a very nice horse. It’s his first run over ground, it should be interesting, but if he discovers his best form, I wouldn’t be surprised if he could run a cheeky race.”

After puzzling performances on Karaka Millions evening, Bergerson is hoping for an improved showing from Group One performers Talisker and Maven Belle at Otaki on Saturday.

“Talisker was a bit disappointing in the Karaka Millions 3YO (1600m), we were really happy with him going into the race, so whether it was the shifty track later in the day, we were scratching our heads a bit,” he said.

“He seemed to have pulled-up fine, if he discovered that Crocetti form, he would be hard to beat in the 3YO 1600m down there. It does look like a nice soft race for him.

“Similar case with Maven Belle, we thought she’d go a lot better than that in the Concorde (Group 3, 1200m) but she never really rounded off, whether it was the track, we aren’t sure.

“Her work since has been faultless and the blinkers go on her, we’ll probably ride her quite conservatively and hope for a good performance, because on her day she is a Group 1 winner.”

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