Star Hastings galloper Callsign Mav has drawn well at barrier five for today's Group 1 A$5million Cox Plate at the Moonee Valley track in Melbourne and will only have nine rivals in the prestigious weight-for-age event.
From that draw Australian jockey Luke Nolen should be able to take up a handy position on the John Bary-trained gelding in the early stages of the 2040m race, although Bary would not like to see him setting the pace.
The five-year-old son of Atlante led throughout to win the Group 1 Tarzino Trophy (1400m) on the first day of the Bostock New Zealand spring carnival at Hastings on September 18 but then took a sit behind the pacemaker Tappy's One in the Group 1 Windsor Park Trophy (1600m) on the same track two weeks later and finished the race off strongly to win again.
"The only reason he led in the Tarzino was because he had a wide draw and had four horses kicking up underneath him so Jonathan (Riddell) had to keep going forward," Bary said.
"There's a couple of three-year-olds there on Saturday in Anamoe and Captivant and often one of those, with a light weight, tries to run along and I don't think they'll hold Zaaki up this time. I'd prefer him not to lead. I'd prefer to be sitting in the one-one, getting the drag along."
Callsign Mav is rated one of the roughies in today's Cox Plate but new jockey Luke Nolen is optimistic of a bold showing despite the horse's casual workout at the Breakfast with the Best trackwork session at The Valley track on Tuesday.
Nolen rode Callsign Mav in his gallop alongside the Danny O'Brien-trained Starelle, ridden by Craig Williams. Callsign Mav was on the inside of his partner and shaded the mare on the line, running his final 400m in 24.6s.
"He gave me a nice feel," Nolen said. "He came across from New Zealand in great shape and John has done a magnificent job with him. He's just had a couple of maintenance gallops and a look around the track here at the Valley.
"He went out there and worked in a sound manner so I'm looking forward to Saturday, I can't wait."
Callsign Mav has won three Group 1 races in New Zealand in the past 13 months, over distances of 1400 and 1600 metres. The Cox Plate will be only his second start over a middle distance, the other resulting in a third behind Beauden and Prise De Fer in the Awapuni Gold Cup (2000m) back in April.
Nolen believes the tight-turning Moonee Valley circuit won't be an issue for Callsign Mav and the horse has done all of his racing going the left-handed way round.
Nolen, who won the 2007 Cox Plate aboard El Segundo and was the regular rider of the unbeaten Black Caviar throughout her run of Group 1 victories, thinks Callsign Mav is tactically versatile and won't mind a slightly rain-affected track.
"He doesn't need to lead and he can get very competitive when he's found in that position. He has the visor blinkers on so he can see them coming if we do find ourselves in that position but he can sit off the pace as well and be as effective," Nolen said.
John Bary knows what it's like to have a Cox Plate contender, having prepared Jimmy Choux to finish a brave second in 2011 behind Pinker Pinker.
Callsign Mav will be taken over by Victorian trainer Danny O'Brien after today's race and will continue his racing career in Australia.
Bosson keen to get back on track
Star New Zealand jockey Opie Bosson is just days away from a return to raceday riding.
The hugely talented rider has spent the past two months on the sidelines after his home south of Pukekawa was deemed as being in the Auckland region for Covid-19 lockdown purposes.
The 41-year-old gained an exemption to relocate to Te Akau Stud in west Waikato three weeks ago, having to spend time in isolation before making the move.
Despite being in a part of Waikato that remains under Alert Level 3, Bosson's move will enable him to ride at Te Rapa and Cambridge, with those tracks also operating at the same alert level.
Bosson has always struggled with keeping his weight down and, with the support of Te Akau principal David Ellis, he has been working hard to get back to racing trim.
"David and I have been on a very strict diet and I've been training hard every day in the gym and going for runs all around the farm. I'm just keeping busy and eating properly and keeping the fitness up," Bosson said.
With 83 Group 1 wins to his credit, Bosson is looking forward to getting back to the races, which is likely to happen at Monday's Labour Day race meeting at Te Rapa.
Bosson has been separated from his wife Emily and young son Max over the past few weeks, as well as his sheep and beef farm, but has been immersing himself in farm-life on the 4000 acres of Te Akau, which in addition to being a thoroughbred establishment, is also home to a large sheep and cattle operation.
"I've been grubbing thistles, spraying, driving a tractor, drenching—I've been doing all sorts," Bosson said.
"It's not the easiest and I miss my family and the farm. Emily's in charge of everything so she's got quite the workload with her job at Trackside and looking after our two-year-old son, as well as looking after the farm."
Tutukaka confirms VRC Derby start
The Tony Pike-trained Tutukaka will now head to the Group 1 A$2million VRC Derby (2500m) at Flemington next Saturday after powering home to win Wednesday's Listed A$200,000 Geelong Classic (2200m).
The Tavistock gelding had raced too fiercely when fifth in the Listed Super Impose Stakes (1800m) at the beginning of this month, and the decision by Pike to replace the blinkers with side winkers and to ride the horse conservatively proved a masterstroke.
Suited by a strong pace, Tutukaka settled back in the field before improving his position coming to the home turn and kept up a strong run for jockey Damien Lane to out-finish the Godolphin runner Character.
Tutukaka has now firmed into $9 on the New Zealand TAB for next Saturday's three-year-old feature.
"I didn't think there'd be much tempo on paper and lucky for us it worked out that there was strong tempo and that was always going to suit this horse. He was obviously strong late," Lane said.
A half-brother to 14-time Group 1 winner Melody Belle, Tutukaka was bred by Marie Leicester and sold through Haunui Farm's draft at the Karaka yearling sales for $250,000 to the bid of Pike on behalf of a group of investors.
Pike has previously come close to winning the VRC Derby, having prepared Sacred Elixir to finish second to Prized Icon in 2016.
Kiwi-bred mare crowned Aussie's best
Australia's darling of the turf, Verry Elleegant, has been crowned the country's Racehorse of the Year following her outstanding season on the track.
Edging towards A$10million in career earnings, the New Zealand-bred mare's season was highlighted by her Group 1 wins in the Winx Stakes (1400m), Caulfield Cup (2400m), Turnbull Stakes (2000m), Chipping Norton Stakes (1600m) and Ranvet Stakes (2000m).
As well as her Horse of the Year title, the daughter of Zed was also bestowed the accolades of Champion Middle Distance horse and Champion Stayer.
Verry Elleegant was initially trained in New Zealand by part-owner Nicholas Bishara for whom she won two of her first three starts, and placed at the other.
She was then transferred briefly to Darren Weir's stable in Victoria before moving into the Sydney stable of ex-pat Kiwi trainer Chris Waller and has had a further 29 Australian starts for 12 wins and eight minor placings.
Melbourne shift for Amarelinha
High-class New Zealand-trained mare Amarelinha has headed to Melbourne to chase a Group 1 target in preference to the A$7.5million Golden Eagle (1500m) in Sydney.
The Jamie Richards-trained four-year-old daughter of Savabeel finished eighth in the Group 3 Bill Ritchie Handicap (1400m) and then sixth in the Group 3 Angst Stakes (1600m) in two Sydney starts and her connections are hoping for a change of fortune going back to the left-handed way in Victoria.
"She's just had no luck. She got shuffled back to last at her first at her first run over there and then got caught three-deep with no cover under a big weight last time," Richards said.
Richards said the Savabeel mare was transported to Melbourne and will run in next Saturday's Group 1 $A1million Empire Rose Stakes (1600m) at Flemington and more than likely back up in the Group 2 $A300,000 Matriarch Stakes (2000m) on the same track a week later.
A $300,000 Karaka yearling purchase by Te Akau principal David Ellis, Amarelinha was last season's New Zealand Bloodstock Filly of the Year, when her victories included the Group 1 New Zealand Oaks (2400m) .
Crowds set to return for Melbourne Cup
This year's Group 1 Melbourne Cup (3200m), run on November 2, is once again set to take place in front of spectators with the Victorian State Government giving the green light for a crowd of up to 10,000 people to be on course at Flemington.
The same number of spectators will also be allowed for the Oaks meeting on November 4 as well as Mackinnon Stakes day on November 6.
While it is a tenth of the usual number of participants Victoria Racing Club chairman Neil Wilson is delighted to have the time-honoured race become one of the marquee events included in the reopening of major events in the state.