And the winner is - the Te Rapa track.

After torrential midweek rain in Auckland and the Waikato, who would have imagined they could have run a slick 1.13.62 1200m in the opening race on Saturday.

Something closer to 1.18 would have been the popular guess for the juveniles.

Bella Gioia sat three wide to do that - essentially because trainer Shaune Ritchie thought the footing out there was best - and even though the filly is highly regarded, the time element was largely due to the fabulous drying qualities of Te Rapa.


To run 1.26.5 for 1400m at this time of year, achieved more than once on Saturday, is truly remarkable.

Bella Gioia is highly regarded by his stable. "My wife Ali and I walked the track on Friday and we figured the inside was not the place to be," said Ritchie. "I told Sam [Weatherley] not to lead."

Bella Gioia, raced by UDL Racing and Maryanne and George Simon, sat three wide and was too strong late in the race.

"I'm not going to take her to the Ryder Stakes because I believe she's better than running around in potential mud in mid-winter. I believe she should be up to some of the black type races for fillies in the spring. We will wait for her."

Third placed Cortado, a winner at Ellerslie at her previous start, will be going to the Ryder Stakes. Shaune Ritchie was on fire on Saturday, winning three races. Promises won in the middle of the card and BT Junior lasted a tough struggle to take the last.

"We will be looking for some black type with Promises and BT Junior is a stayer on the way through. I could see him a rough chance in the New Zealand Cup if we could get him into the race on the right weight."

In keeping with recent northern meetings, plenty of emerging talent has been seen despite winter conditions. Lord And Master, raced by Victoria and John Carter, and Zabeel mare Ultimata look to have big futures.