Handy staying mare Etah James has returned to New Zealand and will be set for a tilt at the Group 1 Barfoot & Thompson Auckland Cup (3200m) at Ellerslie on March 7. The seven-year-old has re-joined Matamata horseman Mark Lupton, who part-owns the mare with his wife Cath and fellow breeders Terry Reid and Gary Howes. Two starts back Etah James won the Listed Pakenham Cup (2500m) for Ballarat trainer Matt Cumani, who has prepared the Raise The Flag mare to win seven races to date.
“We were going to keep her in Australia and have a crack at the Adelaide Cup (Group 2, 3200m), but she’s got some sarcoids on her face and they need treating,” Lupton said. “The vets over there wanted a small fortune, so with all things being equal we decided to bring her home and treat her here. “We had her nominated for the Auckland Cup and it’s worth more than the Adelaide Cup. Maybe our stayers are not as strong as Australia so we talked to our two mates in the horse and decided to bring her home and give her a go and start her treatment, which we’ve done.”
Lupton, who trained the mare for four starts in New Zealand last year, said he was delighted with the condition in which the mare returned from Australia and he was pleased with her exhibition gallop between races as she builds towards the Group 2 Joe McDonald Avondale Cup (2400m) at Ellerslie in a fortnight. “Matt’s done an amazing job, she came home in excellent order,” he said. “I was pleased with her exhibition gallop, so it’s onwards and upwards and hopefully we go a good race in the Avondale Cup and can push on for the Auckland Cup. “She’s 100 percent, we’re really happy with her. Shaun McKay rode her in the Rotorua Cup (Group 3, 2200m) for me last year and he rode her in her gallop on Sunday and said she feels amazing.”
A Group 3 winner, Etah James finished sixth in the Listed Bagot Handicap (2800m) at Flemington on January 1, after her impressive win at Pakenham in early December. “We were pretty confident in the Pakenham Cup even though she went out at $40. My mate (Gary Howes) actually backed her at $61 in England and had a hell of a collect. “She was strong in the Pakenham Cup and the horse that ran second (Secret Blaze) came out the following week and won a staying race at Flemington. “She raced in the Bagot on New Year’s Day but it wasn’t run to suit her and we actually thought she’d win that but it was just a bit higgledy piggeldy.”
Lupton recognises that this could be Etah James’ final racing season, with the broodmare paddock most likely where her future lies in spring. “She’s a good mare. She has won half a million over there and not many of them do that. “The plan is to probably breed from her later in the year and hopefully she can perform well before then.”