Thoroughbred racing returns to the Ruakaka racecourse tomorrow for the Lion Red Pubs' and Clubs' Punters Challenge.
The event is the traditional commencement of the winter season for the Club. Nearly twenty teams have been nominated across the region from the Turatura Tavern on the Karikari Peninsula to the Waipu Hotel in the south. It looks like being a very competitive challenge as the Kensington Tavern defends its trophy.
The race meeting has attracted good quality lower class graded runners with six maiden races on the programme. Many of the leading northern region trainers have nominated. With two horses nominated, it could be a rare visit from the Lance O'Sullivan and Andrew Scott team.
There always seem to be one or two winners from the day that go on and perform well.
Last year's winners including the very good Ellerslie winner Rikki Tikki Tavi and multiple winners since in Chou Chou, Fawn and Spider.
With Donna Logan entrenched in the hands-on running of the Singapore stable of Logan Racing, Chris Gibbs will have a very big day with just over 20 individual runners nominated for the meeting.
Perhaps their best for the day could be the locally bred and owned Scarfi in the Waipu Hotel maiden over 1200 metres at 1.09pm.
The Makfi three-year-old filly was bred by Terry Archer and is raced by local identities of Gary Hannam and Shayne Heape under their GS Bloodstock banner in conjunction with K Hannam and M Spranger.
Back in October Scarfi finished second to Demonization over 1200 metres at Avondale and that horse went to on to win in very good three-year-old company including the Jamieson Park Auckland Guineas. First up this preparation Scarfi looks well placed in the fillies and mares grade maiden.
In a tribute to the great mare Sunline and the training team of father Trevor and son Stephen McKee who have raced many horses over the years at the course, the club will create a permanent recognition with the naming of the Sunline Bar.
In July it will be 20 years since Sunline won the Northland Breeders Stakes at her third start and then amassed thirty-two wins in three countries and over $14 million in stakes.
Part owner Thayne Green has donated several Sunline items that will be won by lucky patrons on-course.
The Stephen McKee stable has several runners today and I rate County Clare a strong chance in the Steinlager maiden over 1400 metres.
The O'Reilly three-year-old filly has drawn ideally at barrier three and should be improved by her first two starts at Avondale.
The Cambridge based trainer Stephen Marsh looks to have the strongest hand in the day's racing with several very strong chances highlighted by runners Darci Palmer in the Sunline Bar maiden over 1200 metres and The Mediterranean Sea in the Lion Red maiden over 1400 metres.
The locals will not miss out today as with so many runners from the Chris Gibbs team there will no doubt be a surprise amongst them and the Rae Racing Stables have two worthy of serious consideration.
The Rae Racing stables suffered a setback in Brisbane with Kaharau suffering an injury when unplaced in the Chairman's Handicap in Brisbane last Saturday, but their runners could be important players in the last double of the day.
In the second last race, the Adams trimmer Insurance 2100 metres race the Kenny Rae runner Master Choice will be ready to show up over the longer distance at its third start from a spell.
This is clearly the most competitive race on the day's programme with many chances including last start Avondale winner Mod Maude, the Murray Baker/Andrew Forsman's Diehard and last year's winner of the same race Te Waewae Bay.
The last could be won by the top-weight Blanco Bay from the Race Racing stable with Opie Bosson riding, based on his very close second at Pukekohe on May 4, even though the race was a high-weight race for jumping riders.
The previous start at Avondale Blanco Bay was virtually knocked out of contention at the 600 metres in the three-year-old maiden. Back at his home track this race should suit him to a tee.
After the last race the Club will be drawing the eight-winning business for the Bream Bay Business race meeting on Saturday June 16.
With just over twenty teams entered the draw starts with the rights for the naming of the $35,000 Bream Bay Cup and then the $35,000 Bream Bay Bowl. Each of the other six races programmed will be drawn.
The climatic conditions over the summer period has produced a very good kikuyu turf surface for the start of the winter season and the Club believes the Ruakaka racecourse can continue to prove it is NZ's best bet in winter.