Veteran trainer Frank Ritchie is looking to land his first Group 1 New Zealand 2000 Guineas (1600m) with lightly-raced gelding Dawn Patrol, who tackles the Al Basti Equiworld sponsored feature at Riccarton on Saturday.
The 74-year-old trainer believes Dawn Patrol, unbeaten in two starts, provides him with his best opportunity to win the three-year-old classic since the great Bonecrusher finished third off an interrupted preparation in 1985.
“He worked over 1400m on Saturday morning at Cambridge on the course proper and I was very happy with his work,” Ritchie said.
“It was a good solid hit-out. “On Tuesday he had a nice, quiet piece of work and he was due to fly out in the early hours of Wednesday morning, but that was aborted due to fog in Christchurch, so he was delayed by 24 hours.” Ritchie said the Guineas was not initially a target for the son of Dawn Approach, but improved racing manners has given him the confidence that Dawn Patrol can be a factor.
“He’s eligible for the Karaka Million and that was always his target in the beginning,” he said.
“After he won a trial, I thought it would be hard to get him ready in time for the Guineas.
“He’s an aggressive horse and he likes to get on with his work. I don’t have to work him in company very often, because he does it himself.
“His ringcraft is not as good as I would like, but he is getting better, he is conditioned-up and it is a half million-dollar race.”
Dawn Patrol has won both of his raceday starts at Matamata and trialed well when third at Te Aroha since his most recent victory on October 13.
“I didn’t want to run in the Sarten as it was only eight days after his last win. I didn’t want to back him up. Physically he recovers immediately as he is a pretty strong horse, but mentally he takes a day or two.
“I was quite delighted with his trial. Passing Shot and Stratocaster were in it and they had both won sprint races at their previous runs. He just settled beautifully, and he went to the line under a hold and only half a length from those two sprinters.”
Jason Waddell will take the reins on Saturday, where Dawn Patrol has drawn barrier eight, and Ritchie said he didn’t need to give instructions to the leading hoop.
“Jason Waddell is right up there with the best. One of his great attributes is his ability to read a race and he studies it. He has great judgement on a horse and knows what the opposition is doing. He is just a natural horseman.”
Ritchie would dearly love to win the race for owner Rex Jensen, who has been a client of the stable for more than 40 years and for whom he prepared Winning Wave to win the 1997 Group 1 Thorndon Mile (1600m).
“He’s a huge enthusiast who just loves his racing and he selected this horse because he wanted a yearling by Dawn Approach. He had seen Dawn Approach race in England,” Ritchie said. “It would give me great joy to win him a major race. Much more joy than the stakes or anything. You can’t buy how he’d feel if he won.”
The trainer also said there had been an “astounding offer” from overseas interests to purchase the horse after his second win which had been turned down.
Ritchie has a team of around 15 horses in work, with five of them owned by Hong Kong connections and earmarked to do their future racing in that jurisdiction if deemed good enough.
The experienced horseman has no plans of retiring anytime soon and said he still loves the job and the industry.
“I like to keep fit and I am fortunate enough to have a job that helps me do that and I still enjoy it. As long as I’ve got clients who are willing to stick around it’s good.”