This season is shaping up to be the best one yet for young Woodlands trainer Robert Dennis, and Saturday’s Listed Liquorland Gore Guineas (1335m) could be the race that confirms it. Now in his sixth season of training, Dennis has saddled a total of 35 winners from 365 runners.
He has an impressive strike-rate this season with eight wins from just 44 starters so far, which puts him right on the cusp of his personal best of nine wins last season. The 2019-20 season was also notable for his first black-type victory with Out of the Park in the Group 3 South Island Breeders’ Stakes (1600m), and Dennis has two shots at further stakes success in the Gore Guineas this weekend.
Between them, The Gift and Ocean Point have won five of their last six starts, and they are both among a quartet of favourites rated between $4.80 and $5 in an even line-up for Saturday’s three-year-old feature.
The Gift has won all of her last three races in impressive style. The daughter of Power scored by six lengths over 1600m at Wingatui in early November, then beat Saturday’s Karaka Million 3YO Classic (1600m) contender Supreme Khan in a 1400m three-year-old race during the Riccarton carnival later that month.
In her only subsequent appearance, The Gift dropped back to 1200m and carried on her winning way at Wingatui on Boxing Day. “She’s been very impressive in those last three starts,” Dennis said. “She just seems to be going from strength to strength.
“It’s a bit unusual for a horse to win at 1600m, then 1400m and then 1200m – usually they go the other way around. But she’s just got that great will to win. “She’s had four weeks between runs, but we gave her a good gallop the other day and she seems to be in great condition heading into this Saturday. She’s bright and well and I’m very happy with her.”
Ocean Point has won two of her last three, scoring a three-length maiden win at Wingatui in October and recording another emphatic victory at the same venue on Boxing Day. In between times, she finished fourth behind The Gift at Riccarton. “That Riccarton race was still a great run from her,” Dennis said. “She had a bad draw and we opted to ride her cold. She had a badly interrupted run in the straight, but still finished really strongly and got within about a length at the line.
“Before that and after that, she’s scored two wins leading all the way, so she’s pretty versatile. “She’s got a handy draw this weekend (gate two), but our tactics might depend a little bit on how the track comes up. If it ends up being a significantly rain-affected track, an inside gate may turn out to be a bit of a disadvantage.”
Gore was rated a Slow7 on Friday morning, with further rain forecast ahead of Saturday. “I’m reasonably confident that The Gift will get through wet ground,” Dennis said. “The other filly might be a bit of a question mark. Having said that, I don’t think it’s a vintage Gore Guineas field this year, and both of our fillies have a bit of class, which will take them a long way.”
Both The Gift and Ocean Point hold nominations for the Group 1 Al Basti Equiworld Dubai New Zealand Oaks (2400m) at Trentham on March 20. “We’ll just get this race out of the way first, but I certainly wouldn’t rule it out for either of them,” Dennis said. “I don’t see any reason why they shouldn’t head that way if they continue their good form.”
The Gore Guineas will kick off a big week for Dennis, who will then travel north to Karaka for the New Zealand Bloodstock National Yearling Sales. “I’m looking forward to heading up to Karaka,” he said.
“I’ve had a bit of interest from my current owners, wanting me to syndicate a couple more horses for them. So at this stage I’ll be looking to buy two yearlings, but if the interest continues to grow, it might be even more than that.
“I’m quite keen to nominate yearlings for the Karaka Million races as well. Kelvin Tyler managed to get one up there for it last year (He’s Got Power, unplaced in the Karaka Million 3YO Classic). I’d love to do the same thing – it would be a pretty exciting experience, both for me and for the owners.”