Group 1 New Zealand Derby (2400m) winner Asterix returns to the races at Te Rapa on Saturday.
The four-year-old will race for the first time since his Derby success in the open 1600m handicap after a long build-up necessitated by remedial work on his feet.
Co-trainer Andrew Scott said there were no set plans for Asterix, other than to get him up over ground over late summer and autumn.
“We're just excited to have him back running,” said Scott, who trains Asterix along with Lance O'Sullivan at Matamata.
“He trialled well a couple of weeks ago, and we're looking forward to getting a run into him and getting a campaign underway.
“He'll probably run another mile after this weekend so he's got a good grounding and then we can look to get him to 2000m and beyond.”
Asterix, who races in the colours of Sam Kelt and is part-owned by former Black Caps cricketer Mark Greatbatch, didn't win until his third start, but at his next start he stayed on strongly to beat La Crique and Regal Lion in the New Zealand Derby.
That proved to be his last race as a three-year-old as his feet were giving him problems. He has since undergone remedial surgery and Scott said he was better for the time off.
“Certainly the spring off has physically done him the world of good,” he said.
“His physical development shows that he's improved a lot from three to four, so we've got to hope he has a trouble-free campaign, that we can get a good campaign into him.
“Hopefully he's going to head to Australia in the autumn for racing over the long trips. We have no real plans set, but we're just hoping to get there.”
Asterix won the Derby on a Good 3 surface but his maiden victory came on a Heavy 8 track and Scott said any give in the ground would only aid him.
“But to say he's going to run amongst them this weekend, well 1600m is probably a bit sharp – it took him 2000m to win a race.”
Asterix was the second Derby winner in consecutive years for O'Sullivan and Scott following the triumph of Rocket Spade in 2021 and they are aiming towards the Derby again this year with horses such as Waitak, Jaffira, and Devildom.
Waitak, who last season finished third in the Group 1 Manawatu Sires' Produce Stakes (1400m) and second to subsequent Group 1 Spring Champion Stakes (2000m) winner Sharp ‘N' Smart in the Listed Champagne Stakes (1600m), has come back well at three and scored an impressive victory in the Listed Trevor Corallie Eagle Memorial (1500m) at Te Rapa last month.
Scott said Waitak, another from this season's outstanding three-year-old crop by Proisir, would trial at Matamata on December 23 and then run in the Group 2 Auckland Guineas (1600m) at Te Rapa on January 1.
“We're hoping to make him a stayer,” Scott said. “He's just got to learn to settle a wee bit more in his races and he can find more rhythm and it will allow him to stay further. The other day, over 1500m, he just wanted to over-rev it slightly through the mid stages.”
Jaffira won his maiden impressively at Tauranga in October prior to a midfield finish in the Group 1 New Zealand 2000 Guineas (1600m), while Devildom looked very good when coming from a long way back to win his maiden at Tauranga on December 9.
Also headed to Te Rapa on New Year's Day along with Waitak will be Dragon Leap, who is being targeted at the Group 1 Sistema Railway (1200m).
Dragon Leap had enough stamina to win the Group 2 Avondale Guineas (2100m) as a three-year-old but has had his share of issues in the past two seasons. However, he looked sharp when beating Babylon Berlin in an open 1200m handicap at Pukekohe on December 3.
“It's taken us a while to try to find his distance, but while he sprints well fresh we'll keep him that way,” Scott said.
Among the other horses O'Sullivan and Scott will line up this weekend will be the two-year-old McKenzie, who makes his debut at Trentham after some smart efforts at the trials.
“He's a nice horse and pretty ready to go,” Scott said.
Meanwhile, Dark Destroyer is recovering well at his owner David Archer's farm from the virus that side-lined him after his victory in the Group 1 Tarzino Trophy (1400m) in spring.
“He got a nasty little bug there and it obviously knocked him a bit, and he'd had a busy block of racing there with Brisbane and then Hawke's Bay,” Scott said.
“But he's in the best hands with David. He's another one for whom time will only do him the world of good, and he's another one we hope will have a good autumn.”