Saturday's Group 1 BCD Group Sprint (1400m) at Te Rapa shapes as one of the races of the season as New Zealand's weight-for-age stars go head-to-head.
A heavy track at Trentham for the Group 1 Thorndon Mile (1600m) a fortnight ago led to the scratching of high-class four-year-old La Crique from that event.
As such, the stars have aligned for Te Rapa, with Imperatriz (+170), La Crique (+260) and Levante (+280), the three top-rated gallopers in the country set to clash in a field that has great depth, with the likes of Dragon Leap (+1400), Babylon Berlin (+1400), Maven Belle (+1500) and Bonny Lass (+2000) likely to provide stern opposition.
The Katrina and Simon Alexander-trained La Crique was a stunning winner of the Group 1 Arrowfield Plate (1600m) last spring before starting a warm favourite in the Group 1 Empire Rose Stakes (1600m) at Flemington, where she was fourth to Icebath.
The daughter of Vadamos didn't thrive during her Melbourne hit-and-run and Katrina Alexander believes the aborted trip to Wellington for the Thorndon will be a beneficial experience for the quality mare.
“It didn't take much out of her. She did the trip well and maybe it was a good thing in disguise,” Alexander said.
“She needed to experience a bit more travelling, she ate up the whole time and there was clearly no pressure on her given she didn't have a run.
“She came home early and bounced into work as normal which is good.”
Alexander said she was looking forward to the challenge of taking on many of New Zealand's best to gauge where her charge is at.
“It is a very good field. I'm looking forward to our horse getting out there. It is an interesting field for us to line up in and there are some really nice horses in there that we have a huge amount of respect for.
“It will be a great race to watch. Our mare will hopefully get the chance to let down well and get a good run under her belt. I think she will benefit from the day out, no matter what.”
The Matamata horsewoman is also pleased with La Crique's draw in barrier 3 and hopes her mare will get a good drag into the race with genuine speed.
An athletic and lightly-framed mare, the husband and wife training combination are mindful of how they prepare the Group One winner.
“She never gallops in company, she does enough by herself. Not because she gallops fiercely but because she is such a competitor and will always give 110 percent,” Alexander said.
“Physically, she is developing all the time and carrying more condition and thickening up every preparation. Every time she comes in she looks more mature and has grown. She is carrying more muscle bulk around her shoulder this time in.
“She is always going to be lighter-framed than most horses, but she is certainly developing in the right direction and will continue to do so yet with more age on her.”
Saturday will dictate the plans for La Crique, who is nominated for the $5 million All Star Mile (1600m) at The Valley on March 18, with the mare currently ranked 21st in the publicly voted order of entry for the race.
“Australia is definitely on the radar. We initially thought we would go to the Thorndon then the weight-for-age Classic at Otaki (Group 1, 1600m) and then have a look at Australia after that,” Alexander said.
“We will just see how Saturday goes. The Otaki race is still an option but the closer you get to the Autumn carnival in Australia, who knows, we might give Otaki a miss and head straight over. We will learn a lot on Saturday including where she is at in terms of distances.”
With the three leading lights for the BCD Group Sprint all trained out of Matamata, Alexander said the tight-knit training centre can be rightly proud, but she admits there had been an air of seriousness in the build-up.
“It is great to see Matamata represented so well with such quality horses and everyone appreciates quality horses no matter what stable they are from,” she said.
“This is the first time we have probably clashed with some of those others, so everyone is doing their work and keeping to themselves and there isn't quite so much banter as in the past. When we are all going head-to-head there is a slightly different feel.
“But we all appreciate a good horse race and we wish everyone well.”