Stephen Ralph is preparing to get a bloody nose in the Waikato mud tomorrow.

No, the Te Awamutu horse trainer isn't planning on playing rugby or anything that silly.

The bloody nose he expects will come via stable star Santa Monica in the $100,000 US Navy Flag Foxbridge Plate at Te Rapa.

Santa Monica won the Railway at Ellerslie last season, beating subsequent group one sprint winners Melody Belle and Bostonian and while that victory shocked punters, she was very consistent at the highest level.

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Ralph says she is better this season and ready for tomorrow's sprint, the first major flat race of the new season.

But that doesn't mean the personable trainer expects Santa Monica to win or even place because mud has proven to be the six-year-old's kryptonite in the past.

She managed a second to Indecision on a heavy track on Boxing Day last season but she has never won on anything worse than dead, with 11 starts on soft or heavy for a handful of placings.

"We know it isn't her best footing but this is a $100,000 race over 1200m, you don't get those every day in New Zealand," explains Ralph.

"So we almost have to line up. It is a starting point and I think she is up to the class of the field.

"But the track is a real worry. So I have told the owners to expect us to get a blood nose on Saturday but the race will bring her on and then we can make decisions about where she heads next."

With her Railway win seeing her rated at 101, Santa Monica has little option but to be aimed at weight-for-age races or the absolute elite sprints like the Railway again and Telegraph.

So Ralph says a visit to Australia is possible, even though winning major sprints there was arid ground for New Zealand horses until Bostonian's winter heroics in Queensland.
"But I am sure she is better than last season," enthuses Ralph.

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"Just like her dam she is getting better with age. Her brother Monaco is the same.

"He has come back a real treat and should be racing in six weeks or so and he might end up being a real flagship horse for us."

Ralph isn't the only trainer of a group one winner taking their star to Te Rapa on Saturday for the Foxbridge knowing a victory might be unrealistic, with fellow high-class mares Consensus and Sentimental Miss probably in the same boat at 1200m.

But the one thing almost all rival trainers seem to agree on is the horse to beat.

"I think Te Akau Shark is the one we all need to be worried about.

"His trials have been great and we know he is a class horse. A lot of them are in this race but he is the one to beat."

Flying the flag

• The US Navy Flag Foxbridge Plate is the first major race of the new season.

• It brings together a host of group one performers at Te Rapa tomorrow.

• Te Akau Shark has already been heavily backed to win the group two sprint.