Chase Auckland back in work
** Unheard of maiden at the start of the season.
** Won eight of nine starts, three features and nearly $400,000.
** Now back in work and could target NZ Cup but not guaranteed to start.
** First markets for NZ’s greatest pacing race are open earlier than usual.
By Michael Guerin
Don’t let Chase Auckland’s place near the top of the early New Zealand Cup markets fool you.
Because while trainer Mark Purdon has confirmed the superstar three-year-old will be nominated for the great race he is anything but certain to start.
Chase Auckland was unheard of this time last year but has emerged as our best three-year-old pacer, winning eight of his nine starts for nearly $400,000 in stakes.
A mid-season injury saw him robbed of his shot at the New Zealand Derby and Jewels but after winning the Sires’ Stakes, Sales Series and Northern Derby he will be crowned three-year-old of the season at the national awards on September 29.
The silver lining to his post-Northern Derby problems are that he was in the spelling paddock earlier than a fellow three-year-old star like Sheriff so will be back racing in plenty of time to get the miles in his legs needed for the 3200m Cup on November 13.
But Purdon says while the Cup is the first aim it is still a tentative target.
“He will be nominated and then we will let him tell us if he is ready for it,” he explains.
“Because of the rating he will be on he will have to race the best horses at some stage early in the season and that will give us a guide as to whether he is ready for the Cup that early or whether we wait to later in the season to target an Auckland Cup.
“So he will start on a Cup campaign but if we think he is not ready he could do what Ultimate Machete did this season, miss the Cup and wait for the Free-For-All.”
That strategy worked last year when Ultimate Machete wisely dodged stablemate Lazarus in the Cup and won the Free-For-All three days later but this year’s Cup is far more open without the enormous judder bar that was Lazarus in the way.
The TAB has pleasingly opened their earliest ever New Zealand Cup market, with nominations not even taken until August 29 and the fact Ultimate Machete is the $5.50 opening favourite confirms how open this year’s classic looks.
Purdon is happy with how Ultimate Machete’s issues which ruined the second half of this season for him have settled down and indicates the $800,000 Cup will suit him better than the four races of an Inter Dominion a month later.
With him being set specifically for the race his $5.50 quote makes far more sense than the $6 for Chase Auckland, who is far from guaranteed to be there.
Any punter eying the Cup market should be careful though as the bookies haven’t included Soho Tribeca, one of Australia’s best pacers, who has been set for the race and should be viewed as coming.
And West Australian trainer Gary Hall confirmed to the Herald he will nominate Inter Dominion runner-up Chicago Bull and rates him a 70-30 chance of coming.
If that pair make it to the race they will be among the favourites so until they are included in the market it is very much buyer beware.
With so many high profile pacers exported or retired this year one of the few genuine Cup winners still in the hunt for Addington this season is Dream About Me, who is the most forward of the Purdon’s big guns.
She pushed Lazarus to a half-neck in the Flying Stakes at Ashburton last season and as a former Auckland Cup winner would only need to hold together to be one of the NZ Cup’s major players.
“She has had all sorts of problems with corns but they are good at the moment and she is not too far away from the trials,” said Purdon.
“So if we can stay on top of those problems she is right up there with our best chances of winning the Cup this year.
“But obviously we don’t have the same firepower as the last couple of years without Lazarus so the race looks a lot more open.”
Meanwhile, the stable’s exceptional three-year-old filly Shez All Rock starts her Breeders Crown campaign in an easy non-tote heat at Addington on Friday and should headline a five-strong team for next month’s rich series in Victoria.