Leading jumps trainer Paul Nelson will have strong chances in each of the two feature jumps races at Te Aroha tomorrow but he still holds some reservations ahead of the event.
Nine-year-old Zed gelding Perry Mason has been in fine form for Nelson over winter and will head into the Great Northern Steeplechase (6300m) as a $3.50 favourite with TAB bookmakers.
He has won four times over the fences this term, including a last-start victory in the Pakuranga Hunt Cup (4200m) at Te Aroha and Nelson is happy with his charge heading into tomorrow.
"I am very pleased with the way he has been going," Nelson said.
"In his last start in the Pakuranga Hunt Cup he did everything that was asked of him. He has been good since, he was pretty keen this morning."
Despite his run of form, Nelson said Perry Mason is untested at the extreme distance, so he is going into tomorrow's race with reserved expectations.
"For what he's done we are very happy with him, but it's a new race," he said. "It's a third longer than it was the other day and the track sounds like it might be even worse than it was the other day, so it's a big ask."
Meanwhile, earlier in the card Nelson will line up Second Innings in the Great Northern Hurdle (4200m).
The Yamanin Vital 10-year-old has been a work in progress for Nelson, who has taken his time with the gelding after coming back from an injury-enforced layoff.
That patience is starting to be rewarded, with Second Innings coming into form with a placing in last month's Grand National Hurdles (4200m) at Riccarton.
"In his earlier runs he probably hasn't been fully fit," Nelson said.
"He virtually only had one race last winter and broke down. So he was out for a fairly long time and it has taken a while to get him fit.
"He was well beaten last start by the winner [Jackfrost in the Grand National Hurdles], but again it's going to be a different track for him. The track will suit him better than the tracks he has struck so far."
●Promising four-year-old English Gambler has pleased trainer Lauren Brennan in his four career starts to date and she believes he has the potential to reach cups class in New Zealand.
The gelding has yet to finish outside the top two and broke through for his maiden victory over a mile at Tauranga last month. He is unbeaten at the distance and will attempt to keep that record intact when he lines up in the Auckland Co-op Taxis 1600 at Te Aroha tomorrow.
English Gambler dropped back in distance for his last-start runner-up performance in the $101,000 Taranaki Challenge (1400m) at New Plymouth and Brennan thinks he will appreciate the step back up to a mile.
"He's really kicked off well," Brennan said. "He's drawn nicely [barrier 4] and once he matures he might be a nice cups horse.
"We had to have a crack at the Taranaki Challenge with the money that was up, but I thought 1400m was going to be a bit too quick for him. But he dug deep in that, so he's back up to a mile and hopefully he can repeat his mile form."
English Gambler is owned in Singapore but the gelding is set to continue his racing career in New Zealand, with Brennan believing he will develop into a quality stayer in time.
"He's owned by Paul Hickman in Singapore," Brennan said. "At this point he's staying here because of his staying prospects. There are more opportunities down here if he is up to the mark, which it looks like he will be.
"It will possibly be his last race [this campaign] with the heavy track. So we'll see how the weather plays out, hopefully the track will come back a little bit.
"We might try him over 2000m, we are not sure yet, we'll see how he comes through [tomorrow]. It will be his fifth start this preparation so there is the possibility he will go out for a break."
- NZ Racing Desk