Promising filly Excelsior Island has two chances to earn her place in next month's Gr.1 New Zealand Oaks (2400m).
A start in the Al Basti Equiworld Dubai-sponsored feature rests on her performance at Avondale today in race 8, the New Zealand Bloodstock Insurance Pearl Series Race (1600m), with a sterner test to follow.
"We then want to run her in the Sunline Vase a week and a-half later and decide on the Oaks from there," trainer Mark Forbes said.
"The Oaks wasn't originally on her programme, but it could be a possibility now.
"She's a filly with a good pedigree so a bit of black type is the main goal."
The daughter of Exceed And Excel is a half-sister to the former champion two-year-old Warhorse, winner of the Gr.1 Diamond Stakes (1200m) and a subsequent Group performer in Australia. Bred and part-owned by retired Cambridge vet Jonathan Hope, Excelsior Island broke her maiden at her third appearance over 1400m at Te Rapa last time out.
"She's trained on well since and we'll probably ride her a bit colder [today]," Forbes said.
Excelsior Island will be partnered by the in-form Jake Bayliss, who guided her to her maiden victory.
"She settles well in her races, she's a good-natured filly and we definitely think she can get over a trip," Forbes said.
The Cambridge horseman knows Excelsior Island well, having originally broken her in. "She went to Australia to Mick Price, but she didn't settle over there so she came back to Trelawney Stud, where she was born and raised, and then came into work with us," Forbes said.
Meanwhile, Oaks favourite Treasure will return to the central districts for her final run ahead of next month's Trentham feature.
The Gr.3 Little Avondale Stud Lowland Stakes (2100m) at Hastings on Thursday week will serve as her lead in to the Oaks on March 17.
Following the injury-forced defection of Dijon Bleu, the Tony Pike-trained Treasure now heads the Oaks market at $5.
The daughter of Mastercraftsman accounted for her stablemate Caricature last time out in the Listed Oaks Prelude (1800m) at New Plymouth and they will renew their rivalry at Hawke's Bay.
"So far so good with both of them and they'll run in the Lowland, but they will both be better when they get to 2400m," Pike said.
"We've always had a massive opinion of Treasure, she's just taken a few runs to work things out and the blinkers have helped her," Pike said. "Caricature's also still quite new.
"She was bit tardily away and had to work to be outside of the leader, she was pretty brave in the straight," he said.
Caricature is not in the Oaks market, but connections have the late nomination path open to them until March 13.
Meanwhile, multiple Group One winner Sacred Star has taken no harm from his unplaced run in the Gr.1 BCD Group Sprint (1400m) on a heavily rain-affected Te Rapa track.
"We didn't really want to start him, but he's only had one run in the last 18 months," Pike said.
"He travelled well until Vinnie [Colgan] let his head go and then he was ducking and diving.
"He'll run in the Darley Plate and hopefully he gets a good surface."
- NZ Racing Desk
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