Trans-Tasman assault for Te Akau

Prise De Fer
Prise De Fer winning the Group 3 Taranaki Cup (1800m). Photo: Peter Rubery (Race Images Palmerston North)

Having stakes contenders on both sides of the Tasman is becoming a common occurrence for Te Akau trainer Jamie Richards. The 30-year-old horseman was kept busy in the spring with a large racing team at home, while Melody Belle and Te Akau Shark performed at the highest level in Australia.

It will be the same formula this autumn with the formidable duo campaigning in Melbourne and Sydney respectively, with Melody Belle set to kick-off her campaign in the Group 1 Futurity Stakes (1400m) at Caulfield on Saturday.

While Richards is looking forward to watching Melody Belle attempt to win her 11th Group 1 race, he will be doing it from New Zealand where he has a number of stakes contenders, including Group One aspirant Prise De Fer.

The son of Savabeel will take a picket fence formline into the Group 1 Haunui Farm WFA Group 1 Classic (1600m) at Otaki on Saturday, including victories in the Group 2 Rich Hill Mile (1600m) and Group 3 Taranaki Cup (1800m) in his last two starts. “It’s his first serious test up with the big boys at level weights,” Richards said. “He’s made good steady progress through the grades, winning the Rich Hill Mile at open handicap, and Taranaki Cup at set weights and penalties. “We think he’s in the right sort of form and three weeks spacing is ideal.”

Richards believes the step back in distance will be ideal for the gelding, but he did share concerns about the track conditions, which were rated a Slow7 on Thursday morning. “Back to a mile shouldn’t be a problem as we’ve kept his work pretty sharp,” Richards said. “He looks to be heading in the right direction, but one query could be soft ground. He’s won on soft in Rating 72 grade, but we do think he’s better on top of it.”

Prise De Fer will be joined in the race by dual Group 1-winning stablemate Avantage. The four-year-old mare has also impressed this preparation, winning the Group 1 Telegraph (1200m) last month and fourth in the Group 1 BCD Group Sprint (1400m) last start. “I was happy with her last run in the BCD Sprint at Te Rapa,” Richards said. “She got back and never really got a decent crack at them. “Danielle (Johnson, jockey) said she travelled well, was left a little flat-footed when Te Akau Shark sprinted to her outside but she found the line like a mile could suit.”

Saturday’s contest will be Avantage’s first tilt over a mile and Richards said he is using the race as an indicator for the rest of her campaign. “We’re trying it out to give us an indication of what we’re going to do with her for the rest of the season. But if we go to Otaki and find out what sort of distance she likes it helps us plan towards a race like the Thoroughbred Breeders’ Stakes (Group 1, 1600m), or give her a freshen-up and get her back sprinting. We’ll be guided by how she performs on the weekend.”

Avantage has been installed as a $3.30 favourite, while Prise De Fer is the next fancied runner at $3.80. Despite having Group 1 runners at Otaki and Caulfield, Richards will be at Matamata overseeing a host of black-type prospects.

The tangerine and blue charge will be led by last start Karaka Million 2YO (1200m) winner Cool Aza Beel who will contest the Group 3 Waikato Stud Slipper (1200m). “We’ve been very pleased with him since winning the Karaka Million,” Richards said. “He enjoyed a nice week in the paddock afterwards, which I think is important for these young horses, and he’s prepared well. “He’s not screwed right down because his big assignment (Sistema Stakes (Group 1, 1200m)) is in a couple of week’s time on March 7 at Ellerslie. But, he’s certainly forward enough and has been working well enough to run very well as a short-priced favourite.”

Cool Aza Beel has been installed as a $1.40 favourite after his last start heroics, while the Petone bookmakers have marked stablemate Need I Say More as a $3.30 second-favourite. The son of No Nay Never was impressive when winning over 1100m on debut at Matamata last start and Richards is expecting another bold showing on the track. “He’s one from one after winning here on debut and does jump and put himself up on the speed,” he said.

“I think he’ll do that again and we’ve met him halfway with a set of visor blinkers because he did over do things a touch in front the other day with blinkers on. “He’s worked well, three weeks between runs suits him, and I think he’s going to be a chance.”

Later in the day Richards will also have two strong contenders in the Listed Matamata Veterinary Services Kaimai Stakes (2000m) in Scott Base and Te Akau Caliburn. “I don’t think 2000m presents any problem for Scott Base,” Richards said. “He found the line well (fourth) from back in the field behind Prise De Fer last time at Taranaki. “He seems to get back and find the line and we won’t change his pattern too much. He’s got to carry top weight (60kgs) but looks a nice chance.”

Promising stayer Te Akau Caliburn will be on trial on Saturday for a tilt at Group 1 glory at Ellerslie next month. “Te Akau Caliburn has got up in the handicap fairly quickly,” Richards said. “He’s a nice horse and his work has been good since he won last start at Awapuni.

“I would have liked to have seen him draw a barrier so he could have positioned handily without spending too much petrol. Now (barrier 13), he either has to go back and make a run at them late or he’s got to go forward a little and try to get in with cover. “His work suggests he’s up to the task and if he runs well we can look towards the Auckland Cup (Group 1, 3200m).”