Racing: Trainers ponder heavy track

By Mike Dillon

Favoured pair face questions as to whether they will handle conditions at Ellerslie in the Bonecrusher Stakes.
Saracino is on trial for a crack at the Caulfield Guineas when he races in Melbourne tomorrow. Picture / Darryl Shearer
Saracino is on trial for a crack at the Caulfield Guineas when he races in Melbourne tomorrow. Picture / Darryl Shearer

The possibility of a holding winter-type track at Ellerslie tomorrow should be the deciding factor in the $70,000 Manuka Doctor Bonecrusher Stakes.

The two top rating 3-year-olds engaged, Xiong Feng and The Soultaker are the pair likely to have the question mark over their chances.

The trainers of the pair, Stephen McKee and Donna Logan are not prepared to write off their horse's chances.

"If the track had been on the better side I'd have been prepared to label The Soultaker," says Logan.

"He's very, very well and you can never get away from the fact that they will all have to handle the conditions, even if the footing will suit some better than him. He finished second to Xiong Feng in a short-course race on debut in bad ground as a 2-year-old, so I'm hopeful."

McKee goes back to the same race to gain a measure of confidence.

"He is such a long-striding horse and usually a track like we are probably going to see shortens them up in the stride, but he's such a strong type I'm hoping he will have the strength to get through the ground."

Auckland Racing Club racing manager Craig Baker says the official Ellerslie rating - heavy (11) yesterday - should improve a bit.

"It will come back to either a heavy (10) or a slow (9). There are a few showers forecast for Saturday and that may not be a bad thing if they arrive. It would loosen the track a bit."

The Soultaker resumed his 3-year-old preparation with a terrific close second to the hugely talented Heroic Valour at Ruakaka on September 10.

From an awkward barrier he was forced over a lot of extra ground around the home turn, but never stopped going forward and has improved with that run.

Xiong Feng resumed at the previous Ruakaka meet and finished a nice fourth to Barcelo over a too-short 1000m after being hampered early in the home straight.

His extremely long stride was unsuited to the 1000m and to being held up for racing room. His last 120m of that race was stylish.

He cannot zip sprint, but works to the finish strongly like a horse that will eventually get to his best at 1600m.

The step to 1400m here should suit if he manages the conditions.

The Logan/Gibbs stable also has Nadeira in the race. She won at decent odds on her home track on August 24 and Donna Logan says she is unsure what she will be like on a rain-affected surface. Many by the stock of sire Ekraar manage "off" tracks.

"I have a bit of an opinion of her and even though this is a major step up in class, I feel she has earned her place in the field."

Quantum is the value runner. He seemed unsuited in the sharply-run Wanganui Guineas last start, a better guide being his final 2-year-old start at Ellerslie when he was narrowly beaten by Ichiban.

He has looked well suited by Ellerslie in three starts there.

Although yet to win in five starts, Hello M'Lady is under-rated. She finds the finish line strongly and her third to Highlad in the Wanganui Guineas was a beaut.

Further west, Australian bookmakers can't make up their minds which of the two New Zealanders they prefer for tomorrow's $175,000 Caulfield Guineas Prelude: Sacred Elixir or Saracino.

They have the pair at $5.50, but just one level below Evacuation ($4.60) and Archives on $5. Sacred Elixir has not raced since he scored his dominating win in the group 1 JJ Atkins at the Brisbane carnival on June 11.

He is the early favourite for the 2500m Victoria Derby and trainer Tony Pike is a touch worried about the 1400m, even when fresh.

"That said, I won't be staggered if he wins. He has really built up while having a break and looks sensational.

"He's drawn nicely and with the right run he can win, but if he gets too far off the pace, Caulfield (tight track) could be his undoing."

Saracino won the 1200m Danehill Stakes at Flemington last start and Melbourne-based Damien Oliver has retained the ride.

"I worked him this week and he felt good. I'm fairly sure he won't have trouble stepping up to 1400m and this race will tell us if he's ready to go further again to 1600m for the Caulfield Guineas," said Oliver.

Interestingly, bookmakers have Archives shorter than Saracino, the clear implication being that they are not confident Saracino can handle the 1400m.

Saracino looked to be holding Archives in the closing stages at Flemington, even though narrowly and in the all important barrier draws at Caulfield, Saracino has No 3 and Archives is out at 12.

The favourite Evacuation has drawn even wider at No 15.

Damien Oliver is sticking with Xtravagant for the A$500,000 Rupert Clarke Stakes, despite a poor showing in the Bobbie Lewis Handicap at Flemington.

"I've worked him and he feels well, but it's hard to be confident after such a shocking effort last start."

Rangipo also resumes in the Rupert Clarke, but should be safely held over 1400m from close to the outside barrier.

- NZ Herald

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