The Hastings training partnership of Guy Lowry and Grant Cullen lost class filly Xpression in a transfer to Chris Waller's stable in Sydney recently, but they just might have a worthy replacement.
Allacciato, who cleared maidens with a barn-storming success at Gisborne last Sunday, is heading for bigger and brighter things.
And, so much so, the Niagara filly was due to be nominated today for the $100,000 Group 2 Lowland Stakes (2100m) at Hastings next Wednesday, with a view to the $400,000 Group 1 NZ Oaks (2400m) at Trentham two and a half weeks later.
Allacciato (pronounced Alla-Charto) is bred to be pretty useful, and co-trainer Guy Lowry does not hold back when describing her potential.
"We've had a lot of time for her since day one, and she's held in very high regard," he said.
"She's probably a year away from showing us her true talent but, at present, she's good enough to take on some of the better fillies around."
Before last Sunday, Allacciato had had just four race day starts for three thirds. She made her debut in a Listed race (1200m) at Hastings in September, finishing seventh of 12.
"Though out of the money that day, she impressed us immensely," Lowry said.
Allacciato has been restricted to three races in maiden company since then, with a wee break in between, but now it's back to the big time.
"She's a big, raw-boned filly with a long stride, and has certainly got the goods," he added.
Allacciato is raced by her breeder Trish Dunell, of Pukekohe, better known as one of New Zealand's leading race photographers.
She has had previous lucrative success as an owner-breeder with last season's Waikato Guineas winner Xbox (by Niagara), trained by the Graham Richardson and Gavin Parker partnership.
She also has 3-year-old gelding Jaguary (by Niagara) in the Lowry-Cullen barn.
Jaguary took solid maiden form into this year's Waikato Guineas a few weeks ago, but was unplaced.
Allacciato (by Niagara) is out of un-raced Keeninsky mare Laced Up, who is a half-sister to none other than former champion galloper Jimmy Choux, trained at Hastings by John Bary.
Dunell bought Laced Up at the 2014 NZ Bloodstock Mixed Sale and paid $5000 for the mare as a racing or breeding proposition.
"We put her into work, but she just didn't want to be a racehorse," said Dunell, who then got Laced Up in foal to Niagara, a stallion she has shares in, and Allacciato was the resultant progeny. The second foal is an un-raced full sister.
"She has a Showcasing filly at foot and is in foal to Niagara again."
Dunell was on course at Gisborne last Sunday, but Allacciato's victory left her with mixed emotions.
"My sister passed away a few weeks ago, and I was in two minds whether to make the trip down to Gisborne, but I'm certainly glad I did. The win was a great pick-me-up."
Allacciato, ridden by Sam Collett, was last in the early running and still had plenty of work to do with 600 metres to go, despite having started a forward move in a slip-stream.
At the 350m mark, her task still seemed a bridge too far but, once Collett balanced her up, the filly really put in the big strides over the final 200m.
Allacciato dive-bombed the leaders to snatch victory by a nose in the last bound.
She now joins another worthy Hastings-trained contender for the Lowland Stakes next Wednesday in Miss Labasa, who is prepared by John Bary.
Miss Labasa went to the Foxton trials last week, racing in blinkers and ear covers as additional gear, and came through with flying colours, finishing third over 1200m.
She will take those gear changes into the Lowland Stakes.
Shiarna shines at Gisborne
Apprentice rider Shiarna Johnson was the quintessential picture of calm as she scored the first winner of her fledgling career aboard royally-bred filly Simogramor at Gisborne last Sunday.
Having just her second race day ride, Johnson was entrusted with the mount on the $2.30 favourite after guiding the daughter of multiple Group 1 winner Katie Lee to a brace of trial wins.
Prepared by Team Rogerson, Simogramor was placed on debut as a juvenile, but that was as good as it got in four further starts before heading for a spell.
The Fastnet Rock filly showed a torrent of speed for Johnson when leading all the way to win her two trials by a combined 18 lengths prior to last Sunday's meeting.
Johnson adopted similar tactics at Gisborne and was six lengths clear approaching the home turn.
The filly was shortening stride in the home straight, but had enough in reserve to hold out stablemate Masarova by a head.
Co-trainer Debbie Rogerson was thrilled by the performance of both horse and rider.
"I've got a lot of time for Shiarna, she has come a long way in a short time," she said.
Rogerson was also quick to pay tribute to former top-class riders Noel Harris and Jim Cassidy, who have played a major role in educating Johnson.
"Noel introduced me to her 12 months ago and we started to teach her how to ride track work properly.
"She has progressed from there, and she'll be a very good apprentice because she has what it takes."
Johnson was quick to double the triumphant pleasure last Sunday when she produced a carbon copy on Rogerson-trained Hingis two races later, leading throughout to score by a nose in a blanket finish, and the apprentice seemed to take the day's proceedings in her stride.
"I originally started riding track work around the Takanini area when I was 13 or 14," she said.
"I stopped after a few years to try something different, but got back into it last year with the Rogersons.
"My goal is just to have fun and learn as much as I can."
Australia here we come
Monarch Chimes will head across the Tasman later this year in an attempt to plunder Australia's feature jumping races again.
He began that campaign at Gisborne last Sunday with a terrific third placing behind Cutting Up Rough and Pasabache in the $30,000 Poverty Bay Cup (1600m).
The David and Emma-Lee Browne-trained gelding was last sighted in the New Zealand Cup (unplaced) in November and his connections were not holding any huge expectations at Gisborne.
"He's pretty well, as we saw," Emma-Lee Browne said.
"I was really pleased there was a bit of give in the ground, but it really was just a starting point for him, a nice run around and a trip away, just to have him on track for April-May."
The son of Shinko King experienced two successful Australian campaigns last year and is set to head back this autumn.
"We seem to be tracking alright," Browne said.
"He hasn't had a lot of time off, though, and I think he's a lot more forward than he was this time last year."
Monarch Chimes will follow the same path in Victoria, contesting the Spencer Memorial Steeplechase (3200m) at Pakenham in April, which he won last year.
He will then head to the Warrnambool carnival for the Brierly Steeplechase (3450m) and Grand Annual Steeplechase (5500m) double, in which he finished third and fourth respectively last year.
Shadows Cast ready
Awapuni trainer Mark Oulaghan is pleased with his Group 1-winning miler Shadows Cast heading into the Group 1 Haunui Farm WFA Classic (1600m) at Otaki tomorrow (Saturday).
The Per Incanto gelding was an impressive winner of the Group 1 Thorndon Mile (1600m) last start and Oulaghan believes the 6-year-old will run well again.
"He came through that win well and has had a reasonably light time since," said Oulaghan, who elected to bypass Group 1 races at Te Rapa, meaning it has been more than a month between runs.
"The big sprint (1400m) would have been a bit sharp for him, and we didn't want to step up to 2000m for the Herbie Dyke Stakes at that stage, so we decided to sit and wait for this race at Otaki," he added.
"I'm comfortable with it. He has done that in the past and been okay and, taking a line through that, I don't think he's far off the mark."
Shadows Cast will be re-united with Johnathan Parkes, who missed the Thorndon Mile ride after committing to Darscape Princess.
He has drawn well (5) and is likely to be ridden forward once again.
His performance tomorrow will dictate whether he pushes on to the Group 1 New Zealand Stakes (2000m) at Ellerslie.
Start Wondering retired
Triple Group 1-winning sprinter Start Wondering has been retired after suffering a minor tendon strain.
Prepared at Whanganui by Evan and JJ Rayner, the 8-year-old won 11 of 29 starts, including back-to-back editions of the Group 1 Waikato Sprint (1400m) and the 2017 Group 1 Railway Handicap (1200m).
Initially trained by Paul Belsham, Start Wondering enjoyed a stint across the Tasman with Chris Waller (3 wins) before rejoining the Rayners after a bleeding attack.
Under the Rayners' guidance, Start Wondering was voted New Zealand's Champion Sprinter for 2016-17.
"He's still at our place, out in the back paddock, and we're really trying to find a good home for him," Evan Rayner said.
"He had a hell of a lot of ability and, once he settled in his races, he ran them out pretty well."
The retirement of the star sprinter has also proved the impetus for Evan Rayner to hang up his stopwatch, with daughter JJ to take sole charge of the stable.
"At the end of March, the end of the financial year, I will hand it over to JJ, but I'll still be around. I just won't renew my licence," said Rayner, who has been training since 1969.
For many years, prior to his Whanganui base, he trained at Marton.
Madison County sale falls through
Dual Group 1-winning 3-year-old Madison County will head to Sydney in preparation for an autumn campaign after his sale to Hong Kong fell through.
The Baker/Forsman-trained gelding won the Group 1 New Zealand 2000 Guineas (1600m) at Riccarton in November followed by the Group 1 Levin Classic (1600m) at Trentham before finishing a gallant third behind Long Leaf in the rich Karaka Million 3YO (1600m) at Ellerslie last month.
He was set to start in the Herbie Dykes Stakes (2000m) at Te Rapa two weeks ago, but was scratched, with a seven-figure sale to Hong Kong pending.
However, that sale was not to eventuate and the son of Pins will now head to Sydney, where he is nominated for a number of races, including the Group 1 Randwick Guineas (1600m) and Group 1 Rosehill Guineas (2000m).
"We're not disappointed, we have still got a good horse to train," Murray Baker said.
"He has missed very little work because we just kept him ticking over."
Olympic eventer back training
Sir Mark Todd, New Zealand's greatest Olympic eventer, has taken on a new challenge and is training regally-bred racehorse Eminent.
He plans to run the 5-year-old son of Frankel at Group 1 level in Sydney this autumn.
Eminent, a Group 2 winner for UK trainer Martyn Meade, is owned by New Zealand Bloodstock principal Sir Peter Vela, who has owned a number of event horses with Todd.
Sir Peter and bloodstock agent Hubie de Burgh bought Martyn Meade out of the horse with the idea of sending him to stud in New Zealand.
He's got a great pedigree and is a Group 2 winner," Todd said.
"They sent him to me to do something with him before going to New Zealand, and then I got a phone call, saying they were thinking of taking him to Australia to run in a couple of races before retiring.
"And we want you to do it.
"I can never resist a challenge. I've had to take out my training licence in a hurry. The plan is to run him in two Group 1 races over 2000m in Sydney - the Ranvet Stakes and the Queen Elizabeth Stakes, though he does have an entry in the Group 1 Doncaster Mile as an insurance."
By outstanding racehorse and emerging sire Frankel, Eminent is a son of the Group 1-placed Kingmambo mare You'll Be Mine."
He's a lovely horse - on the ball, and still an entire of course, but he has a great nature," said Todd, who has done all the slow riding work himself.
Beating Winx in the Queen Elizabeth would be a pretty tall order, but you've got to be in to win.
"Sir Peter embraced it when I started eventing again and has never been afraid to think out of the box. What other owner would give me a chance to do this?"
Todd is no stranger to training thoroughbred racehorses, having successfully taken up the profession after the Sydney Olympics in 2000.
His biggest successes came with Bramble Rose in the New Zealand Oaks, in 2003, and Willy Smith in the Wellington Cup, in 2007.
"I've toyed with the idea of getting back into training, but I'm not giving up eventing just yet.
"It's a great privilege to be allowed to train Eminent, and winning a Group 1 for Sir Peter would be wonderful."