Shaune Ritchie is confident Jennifer Eccles will put her best foot forward in Saturday’s Group 2 Dunstan Feeds Auckland Thoroughbred Breeders’ Stakes (1400m) at Pukekohe. Last season’s Group 1 New Zealand Oaks (2400m) winner had a brief freshen-up following a below par run in the Group 1 Windsor Park Plate (1600m) won by Melody Belle.
“I’m expecting a good performance from her,” said Ritchie, who trains in partnership with Colm Murray. “I wouldn’t be running a horse of her calibre if she wasn’t close to being back to her best. “She hasn’t had a trial and hasn’t raced for seven weeks but that last run was certainly a torrid run second-up. “We’ve given her a couple of weeks in the paddock and freshened her right up. Her trackwork and appetite have been superb so I see no reason not to run.”
The Cambridge horseman has not made plans beyond Saturday’s contest as he looks to assess the mare who ran a slashing fourth in the Group 1 Tarzino Trophy (1400m) when commencing her spring campaign. “We will watch her performance very closely before we evaluate what to do for the rest of the season with her,” Ritchie said.
“The first-up race was excellent, she had a lovely run. Second-up, with The Mitigator setting that break neck pace, it gave everyone a tough run two weeks after a hard enough first run. “She looked like a kindergarten kid in a college race with the likes of Melody Belle and Avantage in there. They are battle-hardened horses that have been at this level for two or three years and are very good at what they do. To step out of three-year-old fillies and go against them is not easy to do.
“If she shows any signs on Saturday that she is not returning to her best we will give her a break till the Autumn. “If she performs well we will take the next step and perhaps give her a bit more space than we have in the past.”
The stable will be represented by first-starter Lady Pristina in the Listed Fasttrack Insurance 2YO Stakes (1100m), where Ritchie admits he has gone against the grain with the Sweynesse filly. “Very rarely would I run a horse first-up in a stakes race and not often would I run two-year-olds before Christmas,” Ritchie said.
“I do think she will be better in the Autumn. “She is a beautiful filly, has a lovely action about her, and we picked Pukekohe because of the length of the straight. “I’m assuming she will sit behind them, she jumps clean but I wouldn’t say she is a natural two-year-old. The 1000m will suit, she will need all of it and it might even be a bit short for her.
“I’m expecting her to improve a stack with the run but we wouldn’t put her there if we didn’t think she was capable of being competitive. “She is one of the two-year-olds that is showing the most speed from the stable so far so she will give us a good line on the rest of them.”
Ritchie is also hoping handy stayer Daytona Red is nearing a return to his best when he steps out in the Mount Shop 2100. The seven-year-old has been out of the winner’s circle since winning the Listed St Leger (2500m) more than two years ago.
“He needs to be showing us he is returning to somewhere near his best so it is one of those runs where we need to see something or we will be questioning ourselves because it is at his best trip and he is nearing peak fitness,” Ritchie said.
“He has had a tendon issue in the past so you always have that question mark whether he is going to return to where he was at in his St Leger win days. “His signs on the training track are good, so we just have to see if he is going to let go when he gets up to that race speed level.”
Meanwhile, the stable will have just the one runner at New Plymouth on Friday, with Alexandrite rated a solid each-way chance.