• Cambridge trainer Tony Pike may break the group 1 Tarzino Trophy hoodoo in the spring carnival in Hastings this afternoon.
• Raised at two hotels here in his childhood days, Pike believes once you live in Hawke's Bay it's always home.
He spent his childhood days in Hawke's Bay before moving north with his family in his formative years but horse trainer Tony Pike has no qualms in revealing this is where the infancy of his affinity with everything equine sprouted.
However, for Pike that sense of endearment hasn't extended to etching his illustrious name on the Tarzino Trophy at the stately racecourse in Hastings.
But that could change today when Endless Drama and jockey Leith Innes come charging out of barrier seven at 4.20pm in the marquee 1400m race of the TAB Daffodil Raceday, the first leg of the Bostock New Zealand Racing Carnival Group 1 trilogy in Hastings today.
"I personally haven't won a Tarzino before although I've had a lot of runners in other races," says the 44-year-old from Cambridge who lines up the 8-year-old Irish stallion.
Qatar Bloodstock-owned Endless Drama raced in his birth country before he was shipped to Australia for several years before Pike gleefully got his hands on the horse about six months ago.
The horse, which is nominated for the 1600m Windsor Park Plate on Saturday, September 21, in the second leg of the carnival, clinched the group 2 Foxbridge Plate, on a slow 9 track, over 1200m at Te Rapa a fortnight ago.
Pike had freighted Endless Drama, who has taken in stride some of the elite rivals in the world, back to Brisbane over winter.
"He's got a lovely temperament for an older stallion," he says of the horse who Kiwi-born, Australian-based trainer Chris Waller, of Winx fame, prepared to win the Apollo Stakes in February last year.
Pike, who has clocked more than 11,000 starts in his career, not to mention 433 with Innes in the saddle yielding 92 victories for him, says Endless Drama has been enjoying a change of scenery in New Zealand.
"His form's been really, really good ... so, hopefully, he can do it again [today]," he says of a field of 16 that includes defending champion Melody Belle who also claimed the Windsor Park Plate and whose trainer Jamie Richards believes can achieve a spring carnival treble despite drawing barrier 15 today.
Having worked on Endless Drama's residual fitness after he had a decent spell, Pike is realising the benefits of sending the stallion to Brisbane.
"Barrier seven's perfect and almost in the middle of the field so it should offer Leith plenty of options," he says, hailing him as one of New Zealand's leading jockeys.
For the record, the 41-year-old Aucklander first won the race here on Starcraft in 2004. Innes followed that up with back-to-back victories on the Allan Sharrock-trained Kawi in 2015-16 on the left-handed 1700m course which is likely to remain true to the Dead 5 track forecast on a sunny day.
"It should only freshen it up a wee bit so the track conditions should be perfect," he says, alluding to the odd drizzle forecast overnight although nothing had eventuated by dusk yesterday.
It'll also be a timely fillip if Endless Drama wins today because Qatar Bloodstock lost champion European horse Roaring Lion to colic at a Cambridge stud only last weekend.
"He's had colic attacks so he had to be put down ... so it's very unfortunate for the owners so, hopefully, Endless Drama will come through, which should be some consolation for them."
Roaring Lion had triumphed in eight of his 13 starts for trainer John Gosden, stringing four back-to-back group 1 winners last year.
Pike says Melody Belle will be the hardest to beat but feels she has drawn poorly.
"If she has any luck in the run then she's definitely the horse Endless Drama has to beat."
His filly, Loire, will compete in the El Roca — Sir Colin Meads Trophy race for 3-year-olds at 2pm.
She won the race for 2-year-olds here last year.
Pike sees the Clayton Chipperfield-trained Catalyst as the one to beat in the field of 12 after scratching another filly, Kali. Shaun Ritchie's Jennifer Eccles is also out of the race.
"It's a nice raceday in supporting a great charity so, hopefully, they have a big day."
While here with hotelier parents, Vicki and Wayne, Pike grew up at the DB Heretaunga along Omahu Rd not far from the HB Regional Hospital after the family settled here in the mid-1970s from Tauranga where he was born. The family also ran the Albert Hotel in the CBD.
"It was great as a kid, a different experience but something I really enjoyed and met so many people along the way," says the former Hereworth School pupil. "We had a lovely swimming pool and a big kitchen and great environment to play in."
Pike says the affinity with horses started with his parents at 12 but he had moved to Cambridge in 1987 when the promising showjumper had started riding racehorses. His parents bought a modest Longlands Stud in Cambridge before advancing to yearling sales.
His parents had raced the Don Sellwood-trained horse, Drum — among the very first ones — to a dozen victories, including the Auckland and Waikato Cups, Trentham and the Thames Valley Stakes.
"I did some trackwork and I was a jockey for a season," says the bloke who pursued a management course at Waikato University but the thought of having to be cooped up in a cubicle in a nine to five-and-beyond week-day grind didn't cut it.
"It started to become a little tedious so it was racing and racehorses," he says, thanking his stars with that gamble before finding a platform to launch an enviable career.
"Yeah, it's been a lot of fun along the way."
Pike's career went to a higher echelon through his affiliation with Raffles Farm where horse Sacred Falls became the catalyst.
Sacred Falls was unbeaten in his six starts for Pike, who was then under the tutelage of Mark Donoghue, but following a NZ 2000 Guineas victory it became part of the Waller matrix in Sydney.
No doubt, Pike's biggest accolade in Hastings came through Sacred Falls who also won the HB Guineas "very impressively" a few years ago.
"He was exceptional and it was a phenomenal performance that day," says the multiple group one-winning trainer who yearns for a maiden spring carnival triple crown victory.
Pike works about 75 horses at his property at any given time while others are spelled.
"Once you grow up in Hawke's Bay it's always home, to be honest," he says. "Whether I'll ever move back there is questionable but, look, I love going down there because it's a beautiful place to live."
Asked to describe himself, Pike uums and aahs before putting his constitution down to "paying attention to detail and hard work" as the main attributes.
"It's about training the right horses and having an affinity where you get to know your horses very well by seeing them on a daily basis."
Pike and wife Kristin have two children, Molly, 15, and Oliver, 10.