Duneagle is in rare company in Shaun Ritchie and Colm Murray's team as one of the few older members within their ranks and the quirky six-year-old looks ideally placed to return to winning ways at Ruakaka.
The Cambridge trainers have been rebuilding in recent seasons and have unearthed a number of promising younger prospects including the undefeated Pearl Of Alsace, The Racketeer and Regazzo.
However, experience may be to the fore in Friday's The Trigg Construction Northland Cup (1400m) with the consistent Duneagle and rider Ashwin Goindasamy appealing as a leading combination.
The Cup will be run for a stake of $30,000 with a continuing substantial input from the Dargaville Racing Club as part of a negotiated agreement with New Zealand Thoroughbred Racing following the closure of its course.
“Part of our settlement with NZTR when they signed off our track was that we agreed to pay $15,000 a year to run the Northland Cup at Ruakaka for the next 10 years,” said Tim Antonio, the last Dargaville Racing Club President.
“We've been through a process of getting the land use changed for residential housing, a retirement village and light commercial.”
The thick end of the Cup stake is within reach of Duneagle, who has recent placed form to back his claims, despite proving a tricky customer to deal with.
“He's been a difficult horse to train and never seems to run a bad race, but he's single-handedly wrecking our strike rate,” Ritchie said.
“I'm not sure we're training Duneagle, I think he's training us and has got a few tricks.
“He hasn't won for a long time, but in saying that, this is the first time we've backed him up and this looks a race well within his capabilities.”
The stable will also be represented by Hammer Time in the Northland Business Systems Maiden (2200m) and Nystrom in the Lion Red Maiden (1400m) with both three-year-olds holding Classic entries.
Hammer Time, a gelded son of Vadamos, was a last-start third at Te Rapa behind Keenasabean, who ran fourth in the Group 2 Auckland Guineas (1600m) on New Year's Day.
“I think Hammer Time is a fairly good horse and holds a nomination for the New Zealand Derby (Group 1, 2400m) and his second dam is Romanee Conti, who won the Hong Kong Cup (Group 3, 1800m) for the Vela brothers,” Ritchie said.
“He's got a pedigree and is a beautiful style of horse. We have been looking for races beyond a mile and if he can't win this we'll be struggling to pay the next nomination for the Derby.”
Iffraaj filly Nystrom was a dominant winner of her latest trial on the synthetic track at Cambridge
“Her win was impressive and we've had a few niggling growing issues with her, but right from her first gallop she's showed a bit and again we've tried to find the softest option,” Ritchie said.
“She's nominated for the New Zealand Oaks (Group 1, 2400m), but she would need to win because we're in an area now where we can't afford for anything to go wrong.
“She's got a good turn of foot and will stay, she's got a sticky gate but we'll leave that to Warren Kennedy who is riding in superb form.”
Meanwhile, Pearl Of Alsace won on debut at New Plymouth before the Tavistock four-year-old mare followed up with a stylish victory at Trentham.
“She's quite exciting and keeps improving and probably galloping as well as anything in the team,” Ritchie said.
“We had her in on Sunday, but she's drawn wide so we'll likely reserve her. We'll be looking for black type at some point in the autumn.”
Last-start winner The Racketeer is heading toward the Gr.2 Life Direct Wellington Guineas (1400m) if the Proisir gelding isn't sold in the meantime.
“He is under contract to Hong Kong and if there is a hiccup he will go to the Guineas, but I'm not delighted that Sharp ‘N' Smart is going there after his work the other day,” Ritchie said.
Also by Tavistock is Regazzo who came back from a two-month break to win over 1600m at Te Rapa last time out.
“He won well the other day and seems to run his best races when fresh because he had a wind operation,” Ritchie said.
“He'll go around again at Te Rapa halfway through the month and long-term we'll be trying to get him in the Easter Handicap (Group 3, 1600m) with no weight.”.