It is 20 years since a Hastings-trained horse last won the Gold Trail Stakes at the Hawke's Bay spring carnival but exciting filly Xpression will give the training base a royal chance of success next week.
The $70,000 Hawke's Bay Breeders' Gold Trail Stakes will be one of the feature races on the second day of the Bostock New Zealand spring carnival at Hastings on September 22. The 1200m event is the first race in the New Zealand Bloodstock Three-year-old Filly of the Year series and has been won by some of New Zealand's best in the past.
The last Hastings-trained winner of the race was Sustaad back in 1997. The Kaapstad filly was prepared by Roydon Bergerson, who has since moved to Awapuni, and defeated another outstanding filly in Tycoon Lil by a neck.
Xpression is a three-year-old filly by Showcasing trained on the Hastings track by the partnership of Guy Lowry and Grant Cullen. She has only had three starts for a close debut third over 1000m and two impressive wins.
The first of those victories was in the Group 2 Wakefield Challenge Stakes (1000m) at Trentham where she was back near the tail of the field at the top of the straight before weaving a passage through to win by half a length. That was back in December last year and she then missed the season's remaining feature two-year-old races after contracting a mild virus.
The filly hadn't raced for more than eight months when she resumed in a three-year-old fillies' race over 1100m at Taupo on August 22 and it was a great training feat by Lowry and Cullen to have her ready to win fresh up after just a couple of Hastings jumpouts to prepare her. She again settled back off the pace in the early stages but unleashed a powerful finishing burst in the straight to get up and beat Santa Catarina by a long head.
Xpression has trained on the right way since that win and looked bright when working at the Hastings track this week. Last season's leading jockey Samantha Collett has ridden Xpression in all three of her starts and will again be aboard.
Last season's champion two-year-old Avantage is expected to be one of Xpression's rivals in the Gold Trail Stakes and, on form, she looks the obvious one to beat. The daughter of Fastnet Rock has had six starts for five wins and a second.
She won both the Listed Karaka Million (1200m) at Ellerslie and Group 1 Manawatu Sires' Produce Stakes (1400m) at Awapuni and was also runner up in the Group 1 Sistema Stakes (1200m) at Ellerslie.
"She galloped between races at the last Hastings meeting and worked nicely, so we're pleased with her and she'll run first up in the Gold Trail," Matamata trainer Jamie Richards said.
Richards confirmed Avantage was on a path to the Group 1 Gavelhouse.com New Zealand 1000 Guineas (1600m) at Riccarton in November.
"How we get there I'm not sure. But we'll look at all options once we get through Hastings, be it in the North or the South.
"She hasn't grown a lot between two and three, but she's stronger and she's still got the action she had as a two-year-old. We were particularly pleased with her gallop at Hastings so hopefully we're on track."
Second day of HB carnival
Hastings racegoers will be treated to more Group 1 action on the second day of the Bostock New Zealand Hawke's Bay spring carnival tomorrow week.
The middle day features the running of the $200,000 Windsor Park Plate (1600m) which will see many of the horses that contested the Tarzino Trophy (1400m), a fortnight ago, doing battle again including both the winner and runner-up in that race in Melody Belle and Hiflyer.
The other black type event on the 10-race programme will be the Group 3 $70,000 Hawke's Bay Breeders Gold Trail Stakes (1200m), the first race in the New Zealand Bloodstock Three-year-old Filly of the Year series.
The first race is timed for 11.50am and the last at 5.05pm and there will be a $10 entry fee.
Nelson's frustrating run of seconds
It was a case of so close yet so far away for Hastings trainer Paul Nelson last weekend.
The astute horseman went within an ace of taking out both the Great Northern Hurdles and Great Northern Steeplechase at Te Aroha on Sunday after also having to settle for the runner-up position with an earlier runner at that meeting and one at Wanganui on Saturday.
The Nelson-trained Second Innings looked the likely winner of the Great Northern Hurdles when in front with two fences to jump. But he bungled the second to last and also landed awkwardly at the last, enabling race favourite Jackfrost to get up and beat him by one and three quarter lengths.
Three races later the Nelson colours were carried by Perry Mason in the Great Northern Steeplechase and he also looked the likely winner when jockey Aaron Kuru took him to a clear lead 600m from home. But he too was run down in the closing stages by Chocolate Fish and was four and a half lengths adrift at the finish.
Earlier in the day Nelson lined up The Arabian Duke in the 0-1 win steeplechase and he also made a costly mistake at the second to last fence and finished second to Delacroix, beaten by four and a half lengths.
Peso was Nelson's only runner at Saturday's Wanganui meeting and he finished second to Strolling Vagabond in the $35,000 open handicap over 2040m, the winner's margin being three and a half lengths.
Humidor Melbourne Cup topweight
New Zealand-bred and owned galloper Humidor has been allotted topweight in both the Caulfield and Melbourne Cups when weights were released on Tuesday.
The Darren Weir-trained triple Group 1 winner has been given topweight of 58 kilograms in both the Caulfield and Melbourne cups.
The former Kiwi is an unlikely runner in both races with the Group 1 Cox Plate (2040m) and the Group 1 Emirates Stakes (2000m) the targets for his spring campaign.
There were 183 horses nominated for the A$7,050,000 Lexus Melbourne Cup (3200m), to be run this year on Tuesday, November 6. There are 34 New Zealand-bred and 10 New Zealand-trained.
The powerful Cambridge partnership of Murray Baker and Andrew Forsman has five of the 10 New Zealand-trained nominees headed by dual New Zealand Horse of the Year Bonneval, who is weighted on 54.5kg. The stable's other entries are Jon Snow (55.5kg), Vin de Dance (53.5kg), Zacada (53kg) and Highlad (51kg).
The Matamata training partnership of Lance O'Sullivan and Andrew Scott have nominated impressive last start winner Charles Road, who is weighted on 53kg, while last season's Auckland Cup winner, Ladies First, trained by New Plymouth's Allan Sharrock, is weighted on 51.5kg.
Matamata trainer Jamie Richards has nominated Mongolianconqueror (51kg) and Our Abbadean (50.5kg), while New Plymouth's John Wheeler has again nominated Pentathlon (51kg).
Jon Snow is 12th in order of entry into this year's Melbourne Cup and Bonneval 22nd so both would be guaranteed a start in the 24-horse field.
Last season's New Zealand Derby winner Vin de Dance is currently 44th, with Charles Road 55th and Ladies First 76th. The others are a long way down in the order of entry but could earn a start by winning one of several qualifying races leading up to the cup.
Shark ready to attack again
One of the more impressive winners on the opening day of the Bostock New Zealand Hawke's Bay spring carnival was the Jamie Richards-trained Te Akau Shark.
The lightly-raced four-year-old resumed with an impressive victory over 1200m and will now return to that venue on October 6.
"He will run in the Open 1400m (Gr.3 Red Badge Spring Sprint) on the last day," Richards said.
"The horse is in good order, he just had a bit of a freshen-up and we're very pleased with how he's going."
A winner of three of his four starts, Te Akau Shark finished fourth in last season's Group 1 New Zealand 2000 Guineas (1600m) before injury sidelined the talented son of Rip Van Winkle for the remainder of the season.
"It's just one step at a time with him and we'll get through Hastings before we confirm anything else," Richard said.
First Group success for Charm Spirit
Windsor Park Shuttle stallion Charm spirit recorded his first Group win as a sire when Yourtimeisnow was victorious in the Group 3 Dick Poole Fillies' Stakes (1200m) at Salisbury, England, on Thursday of last week.
It was the second win in four career starts for the Roger Varian-trained filly who has plenty of potential, according to her rider.
"Mentally and physically she's getting better and could be anything," jockey Andrea Atzeni said.
A triple Group 1 winner and highest earning son of Invincible Spirit, Charm Spirit also recently sired his first southern hemisphere trials winner at Te Teko last month.
Rios now based in Matamata
Group 1-producing sire Rios has settled in well at Upstage Bloodstock, Danica Guy's Matamata property where he will serve a handful of quality mares in his first season at the boutique operation.
Previously standing at Waikato Stud, Rios was purchased by Guy off gavelhouse.com this year and the Matamata horsewoman is hoping her newly acquired stallion can produce another Group 1 winner for her.
Guy prepared his son Gaultier to win the 2015 Group 1 Levin Classic (1600m) before he was sold to Hong Kong, where he has won three races and nearly HK$4 million in prizemoney.
"He's a gentleman," Guy said. "He's done a great job with limited opportunities.
"I'm hopeful that we can get another good horse by him. I've got a couple of very nice mares that he will cover this season and hopefully he will get a few outsiders as well."
Rios stands at Upstage Bloodstock this season for a service fee of $2500+GST.