Mark Jones is hungry for further black-type success.
The dual-code Canterbury trainer gained his first thoroughbred stakes win last Saturday when he produced Phelan The Power for an off-the-canvas victory in the Listed Timaru Stakes (1400m) at Riccarton.
Spurred by the performance, Jones has opted to up the ante even further with Phelan The Power, backing up the five-year-old Power gelding in Saturday’s Group 3 White Robe Lodge (1600m) at Wingatui.
“It was a good gutsy win last week. He was headed and came back to score and that was a pretty big thrill,” Jones said.
The Timaru Cup was Phelan The Power’s fifth win from 30 starts but he had already shown his potential with a gallant third placing behind Saturday’s Group 1 Thorndon Mile (1600m) winner He’s A Doozy in the Group 3 Coupland’s Bakeries Mile (1600m) at Riccarton in November.
Jones, one of harness racing’s most successful participants, admitted to “a couple of trainer errors” along the way but said he was loving the ride Phelan The Power had taken him on and while he was at peak fitness, it was the ideal time to have a crack at a Group race.
“He’s been bucking and kicking ever since the race. He’s licked the bowl clean every night so he’s come through it pretty well,” Jones said.
“He usually comes through his races pretty good and has normally backed up well. The more I race him, the better he gets. He’s a bit like a standardbred in that sense so that probably suits me better.”
Part of Phelan The Power’s exercise regime is working off a lead behind Jones’ pacers.
“I train my pacers to stay a bit. If they’ve got that base fitness, it does carry them a long way. Conditioning is a big part of it and that shows in the last bit of their races,” he said.
“He lacks sheer speed but he’s just got good determination and a real will to win. It was a pleasing result. He always hits a flat patch from the 600 to the 400m at Riccarton. It’s a bit frustrating because it makes the job a bit harder for him but he’s always just done that.”
Winning rider Jasmine Fawcett sticks with Phelan The Power for the White Robe Lodge, for which he has drawn barrier seven and will again be ridden with good intent.
“If he can jump away like he has been, I’d like to see him in front. He’s shown he’s better trying to run the sprint out of his opposition and making it a real test of fitness,” Jones said.
“If he could run top four or five at weight-for-age, we’d be happy. He’s jumping 6kg in weight and takes on some pretty good ones, like (Group One winner) Prise De Fer. If he could run in the top three, it would be like winning it for us.”
Jones said the White Robe Lodge would likely be Phelan The Power’s final run for summer, with the Group 3 Winter Cup (1600m) at Riccarton next August his longer-term target.
“He’s got good wet track form so I’ll probably give him a break after Saturday and work towards the Winter Cup, which looks a good option for him.”