Waverley trainer Bill Thurlow has his doubts that Glory Days can win today's Gr.2 Avondale Cup at Ellerslie but he's confident the race will ensure that his talented staying mare is at her peak for next month's Gr.1 Barfoot & Thompson Auckland Cup (3200m).
Glory Days announced herself as an Auckland Cup contender in the early summer with comprehensive wins in the Waverley Cup (2200m) and Listed Wanganui Cup (2040m) before a luckless run in the Gr.3 Manawatu Cup (2200m) at Awapuni prompted a Christmas break.
She returned with a fast-finishing second in last week's Listed Wairarapa Thoroughbred Breeders' Stakes (1600m) at Tauherenikau, a performance that convinced Thurlow he had the mare on the right track for Ellerslie.
"We were very happy with her run at Tauherenikau. She came to the end of it but we expected that," Thurlow said.
"The way the race was run, she had a bit of work to do. She had to come wide to make her run but we were happy. It was a brave run and she's come on well since. She's worked well this week.
"It might be a bridge too far to expect a win this weekend but we're hoping she can run in the first five. If she can do that and gets around Ellerslie well the first time, handles the bends well and balances up nicely, I'd be rapt."
A winner of eight of her 22 starts, the six-year-old mare has won three of her four starts past 1600m, having only stepped up to 1800m with a win at New Plymouth last November.
Thurlow always believed her forte would be staying but made sure she got a good grounding in her racing education at the shorter distances.
"She just wasn't ready to go over ground earlier on but now she's stepped up to a middle distance, she's racing better," he said.
"She's clean-winded and doesn't take a lot of work and she's lightly-framed so the racing doesn't take a lot out of her. I've got no fears about her getting two miles (3200m) because she relaxes so well in her races."
Glory Days is the TAB's $8.50 third favourite for the Auckland Cup on March 9 behind Charles Road and Five To Midnight at $4.50 and opened as equal second favourite for the Avondale Cup at $5.50 with Five To Midnight in a market headed by Waikato Cup winner Mongolian Marshal at $3.
Thurlow said Glory Days was likely to go straight into the Auckland Cup without another run, though he would consider the Nathans Memorial (2200m) at Ellerslie on March 2 if he felt she needed another leadup race.
"There's no other suitable leadup in the Central Districts and we'd be more likely to run in the Nathans if it wasn't for the travel involved. She's a good traveller though and we could stay up in Auckland afterwards if we did think she needed a run in the Nathans," he said.
Thurlow wasn't ruling out a start for Glory Days in the Gr.1 Sydney Cup (3200m) at Randwick on April 13 if she proved herself worthy in the Auckland Cup. "She's got a nomination for the Sydney Cup and that would be the ultimate aim if she went well in Auckland. But we're wary, she's had a long season and we'd only go there if it was the right thing to do."
●The David and Emma-Lee Browne-trained duo of Belle du Nord and Stratocaster were disappointing in their respective back-type performances at Te Rapa last Saturday and their connections are planning their next steps with the pair.
Belle du Nord tailed the field home in the Gr.1 Herbie Dyke Stakes while Stratocaster finished unplaced in the Gr.1 BCD Group Sprint. "They were a little disappointing," Emma-Lee Browne said. "I think the run didn't go quite to plan for Belle du Nord and we'll just have to write that one off."
"Stratocaster has pulled up fine. He's had quite a bit of racing lately, so we are just giving him a little freshen-up after that run and we'll see after two weeks out in the paddock where we head to next with him."
●The Murray Baker and Andrew Forsman-trained Mongolian Marshal has opened a $3 favourite with TAB Bookmakers for today's Gr.2 Avondale Cup (2400m) at Ellerslie.
The High Chaparral four-year-old is the winner of five of his 15 starts, including the Gr.3 Waikato Cup (2400m), and while four of those wins have been up to 1600m, Baker pointed out he had won at the trip.
"The horse is well but the distance is a query, though he has won a Waikato Cup at 2400m," Baker said.
The showy gelding has had a good run of form of late, backing up his Waikato Cup win in December with a placing in the Gr.3 City of Auckland Cup (2400m) on New Year's Day and a runner-up performance behind Five to Midnight in the Karaka Cup (2200m) at Ellerslie last month.
- NZ Racing Desk