Michael Pitman has always felt comfortable at Trentham.

The Riccarton trainer's sole group one win came at Trentham, his first group two victory came on the track and he has regularly featured at the Wellington Cup meeting.
He won the opening race at the 2017 cup carnival last weekend and has genuine hopes in the two remaining group one races at the meeting.

His talented sprinter First Serve is fourth favourite for Saturday's $250,000 JR & N Berkett Telegraph (1200m) and stablemate Son Of Maher is fourth favourite for the $200,000 Harcourts Thorndon Mile on the final day, on January 28.

"We have won a lot of races at Trentham," Pitman said as he looked forward to the Telegraph.


First Serve, who will be something of an unknown quantity on Saturday, had not been trialled or even named when the 2016 Telegraph was run.

The Swiss Ace mare, who cost just $6000 at the festival session at Karaka in 2014, did not make her debut till last March, when she comfortably won a maiden on her home track.

Two starts later she beat all bar Xtravagant in the Cambridge Breeders Stakes (1200m) at Te Rapa, with Volks Lightning third. There is now a chance that the three placegetters will clash again on in the Telegraph.

"I'm not silly enough to say that she would have beaten Xtravagant [in the Cambridge Breeders'] but she was definitely the unlucky runner in the race and should have finished closer," Pitman said. "She got about five mentions in the stipes' report.

"Since then she has won another five races and kept going ahead."

First Serve has done the rest of her racing in the South Island but a record of seven wins, a second and a fourth from nine starts warrants respect in any company.

Her only other defeat came when she finished fourth, as a $1.70 favourite, in the listed Pegasus Stakes (1000m) at the New Zealand Cup meeting. She was cramped for room in the straight in the Pegasus and came out three days later and won the Canterbury Breeders' Stakes (1400m) from a wide barrier.

""It was a good effort in the Breeders' Stakes as she was trapped wide early and was stepping up to 1400m for the first time," Pitman said. "She was also hit over the head three times [by another rider's whip] in the Pegasus and that didn't help her."

In her one start since the NZ Cup meeting, First Serve beat five rivals in a rating 85 1200m at Waikouaiti on January 1. "She didn't beat much but carried 62.5kg and won easily," Pitman said. "She's not the biggest mare and to win well with that weight was very encouraging.

"She came up [to Trentham] with the rest of the team last Wednesday and is in really good order.

"One of her strengths is that she can settle on the pace but not use up much energy and still quicken. She can take bad luck out of the equation and I don't think I've had a horse with better racing manners."

Sam Wynne has ridden First Serve in all her races and there will be no change for a group one assignment. "Sam rides a lot of work for us, is a very talented rider and has a first-class attitude."

First Serve was at $7 for the Telegraph yesterday, with the market headed by Xtravagant at $4, Railway Stakes winner Start Wondering at $5 and Railway runner-up Perfect Fit at $6.

Pitman has no doubt that Xtravagant deserves to be favourite. ""If the good Extravagant turns up, we will all be running for second. He's a super horse on his day."

If Pitman, who now trains in partnership with son Matthew, can win either the Telegraph or the Thorndon, it would come on the 25th anniversary of his group one win with Just Tommy, in the 1992 Thorndon Mile.

Pitman has already had Telegraph placings with Coup Align and El Chico and had another group one placing at Trentham with Final Reality, in the 2008 Thorndon Mile.

He prepared Saveur to win the 1989 NZ St Leger, then a group two race, and Pokare was an early flagbearer for the stable at Trentham, winning the group three Thompson Hcp in 1986.