El Soldado is on target for what could be a remarkable defence of a group one title.

The veteran stayer produced the shock of last season when he won the Auckland Cup at odds of 125-1 and his trainer and part-owner Phillip Devcich has high hopes for Ellerslie again. "I think he's probably better now than he was last year," he said.

El Soldado will make the fourth appearance of his current campaign in today's SVS Hamilton Cup at Te Rapa off the back of a much-improved effort for fourth in an open handicap at Ellerslie.

The gelding had been unplaced when resuming and then finished at the tail of the field in the City of Auckland Cup. "I'm pretty happy with him and it was good to see him run well last time out," Devcich said.


"He's come through it really well, he loves racing and he's getting fitter."

El Soldado will be ridden by Craig Grylls, who has a good record on the 10-year-old with three wins, including the Te Aroha Cup, and six placings from 14 rides. "As long as he runs well, he'll go to the Avondale Cup and if he needs another run before the Auckland Cup there's a race at Matamata a week after Avondale," Devcich said.

"He might be a 10-year-old, but we'll have another crack at it."

A possible change of tactics is being considered by trainer Richard Collett as he plots the next target for promising 3-year-old Swissta. The Swiss Ace gelding raced a little too keenly in front in the NZB Insurance Karaka 3YO Mile at his last run and understandably wilted when the pressure went on late in the contest.

"We wanted to go forward but he ended up being pressured most of the way by Jon Snow which told in the concluding stages," noted Collett.

"He's a better horse when he can sit on the outer and do the chasing so hopefully that's what will happen at his next run."

That will be in the Avondale Guineas at Ellerslie on February 18 where he could be joined by stablemate Top Prospect provided he performs to expectations in the Baker Racing Stables 1600 at Te Rapa today.

- NZ Racing Desk