Former top juvenile filly Vernazza is set to make her raceday return at Te Rapa on Saturday after a 20-month hiatus.
The Brendan and Jo Lindsay-bred and raced mare had four starts for trainer Lance Noble as a two-year-old for two wins and two placings, including victory in the Group 2 Matamata Breeders’ Stakes (1200m) and a runner-up result behind Cool Aza Beel in the Group 1 Sistema Stakes (1200m).
Since then, COVID-19 has wreaked havoc on the world, and with her owners’ sights set on Australian spoils last spring, she joined Te Akau trainer Jamie Richards’ Sydney team, but unfortunately she sustained an injury and returned to Noble to undergo rehabilitation.
“She went to Australia as an early three-year-old and got hurt and pulled a muscle in her hind quarters, and it has been a long, slow process in getting her right,” Noble said.
“There has been a lot of slow work on the treadmill, water walker, physio, there has been a lot of work put into her.
“She had about six months off, complete rest, so we have basically had to start from scratch again.
“Touch wood, we haven’t had a problem with her this prep.”
A daughter of More Than Ready and Group Three winning Zabeel mare Zonza, Vernazza has had two trials in readiness for her first-up assignment, finishing runner-up behind Babylon Berlin over 800m in September on the Cambridge synthetic before posting the same result on the surface a month later over 950m.
“The trials were good because she only had those few races at two, so she was still learning how to be a racehorse,” Noble said.
“We used the trials not only for fitness but to also try and teach her a bit more. I have been pleased with how she has been going.”
Noble is looking forward to watching her compete in the Listed Legacy Lodge Sprint (1200m) at Te Rapa on Saturday where she will jump from barrier 13 with Bridget Grylls aboard.
“It is not ideal (stakes race first-up after a long layoff) but she is very awkwardly placed in the ratings because she is rated 76, so if you run in a rating 74 race you carry a huge weight or you have basically got to jump into open company,” he said.
“The field has come up pretty strong and the barrier draw is not ideal, but we have got to kick her off somewhere and part of the rationale is that if she runs well tomorrow she might get a few more points and we may be able to get into some better races around Christmas.
“She would have to keep on improving and prove that she is back to somewhere near her best, but the Railway (Group 1, 1200m) is a possibility for her.”
Vernazza will be joined in Saturday’s race by stablemate Familia who will also be first-up.
“Familia wasn’t really targeted towards this race,” Noble said. “We were going to run last week and separate them, but the track at Tauranga was pretty heavy so we elected to scratch her from there.
“You don’t like to run them against each other, but just with her programme going forward we need to get a run in for her as well.
“Hopefully she will go to the Auckland Thoroughbred Breeders’ (Group 2, 1400m) in a couple of weeks.
“Both of them will improve a lot with the run. They are both nice and fresh and I just hope the rain doesn’t come.”