Which one of Jamie Richards' two superstars he thinks will win the Foxbridge Plate at Te Rapa today depends on how you phrase the question.

Of course there is no guarantee either Te Akau Shark or Melody Belle win capture the $100,000 US Navy Flag-sponsored group two, with some very serious horses with far better draws and plenty of Te Rapa mud standing between them and the winner's circle.

But considering Melody Belle is the defending champion and certain to be named Horse of the Year in a month and Te Akau Shark is, quite rightly, the most hyped horse in the country, Richards can head to the first major race of the season with a decent strut on.

Te Akau Shark has already been smashed on the fixed odds and has looked both strong and sound in his two winning trials, with a wet track today no issue for a horse who hits the ground hard.

Advertisement

He has a wide draw and is likely to settle worse than midfield but has our best jockey in Opie Bosson so lots of factors point to the big chestnut being the centre of attention after the race.

But Richards doesn't want to say that. Because he loves Melody Belle and he has a pretty good memory.

He remembers just how many times Melody Belle fought off very good horses like Bostonian and Danzdanzdance to win at the highest level last season.

"I don't think she had another horse pass her once she led in the home straight last season," he remembers.

But what about those recent trials at Te Rapa when Te Akau Shark looked like Tarzan and Melody Belle trialled like Jane, if Jane was middle aged and not entirely interested.

Richards remains loyal and points out the real Melody Belle will be evident in the parade ring today.

"You will see a different horse. She is a year older and might have been a bit too relaxed in her trial but the hood will go on her today and she will be up on her toes in the parade ring. She will know it is race day."

Change the conversation to tactics, so important in early-season races when swooping winners are rare, and again Richards stands up for his equine girlfriend.

Advertisement

"The idea is for her [Melody Belle] to go forward from her wide draw and get handy whereas the Shark will settle back and try and build momentum into the race. That is how they are both best ridden so again that puts her in front of him.

Melody Belle. Photo / File
Melody Belle. Photo / File

"And let's not forget she won five group ones last season and this race, whereas Te Akau Shark has only won a group two. That is a big difference.

"And there are some other good horses in the race too obviously so it won't be easy."

That is hardly the sort of confidence the punters who had $10,000 on Te Akau Shark this week want to hear from the young trainer, who himself knows what it is like to be heavily backed as he has already attracted money to win the trainer's premiership this season.

But it is Richards' way and the Te Akau way. The Tangerine army, from the staff up to boss David Ellis, are very good at saying the right thing and getting the right, positive message across.

It is a level of professionalism rarely seen in New Zealand racing before, the polish on a big machine working.

But while Richards is driving this Tangerine Tank he is still a young man, still enjoys a laugh and even allows himself a beer when he has a rare morning he doesn't have to be out of bed at 3.30am the next day.

So to find out what he really thinks, you just have to appeal to that side of his nature.

So we ask him: "Say I was at the pub with a few guys having a few bets and a beer and I rang to ask you which one of these two we should back, what would you say?"

The answer comes without hesitation, short and sharp.

"Te Akau Shark for sure," he smiles.

It took a while, but we got there. Much like Te Akau Shark probably will.

Te Akau Shark

Breeding: 5g Rip Van Winkle-Bak De Chief.

Trainer: Jamie Richards

Jockey: Opie Bosson.

Career: Six starts, five wins, $242,250.

Highlight: Couplands Mile (Group 2), Red Badge Sprint (Group 3).

Melody Belle

Breeding: 5m Commands-Meleka Belle.

Trainer: Jamie Richards

Jockey: Michael McNab

Career: 20 starts, 11 wins, three placings, $1,625,406.

Highlights: Six group one wins, Foxbridge Plate, Queensland Sires' Produce (both group two), Karaka Million (listed).