Happy versus Grumpy. Not a clash between two of the seven dwarves but a snapshot of trainers Roger James and Robert Wellwood’s two contestants for Saturday’s Group 1 Rydges Wellington Captain Cook Stakes (1600m) at Trentham.
Happy is the personality-plus last-start Group 2 Coupland’s Bakeries Mile (1600m) winner Hypnos. Grumpy is last-start Group 2 Tauranga Stakes (1600m) winner Concert Hall, who prefers her own company and pins her ears back and bares her teeth as a reminder.
But personalities aside, James and Wellwood couldn’t be any more content with their pair heading into their weekend weight-for-age assignments. “All we can do is be happy with what we are sending into the race and I think they have both had great preparations, they’ve had patient careers and they are both in career peak form,” James said.
Savabeel mare Concert Hall heads the TAB’s fixed-odds Captain Cook Stakes market at $3.70 ahead of Rock On Wood at $4.20, Prise De Fer at $5, Aimee’s Jewel at $6 and Hypnos at $7. The Joan Egan-bred and raced six-year-old has won eight of her 21 starts, including last year’s Group 3 Cuddle Stakes (1600m) and October’s Group 3 Thompson Handicap (1600m), both at Trentham.
“You never set plans in concrete,” James said. “Originally we thought we’d go to the Counties Cup (2100m at Pukekohe last month) but she did so well after her previous win and I thought why don’t we look at going to the Tauranga Stakes (Group 2, 1600m) and keep our options open? We can either back up in the Counties Cup or go to the Captain Cook. “She was so impressive at Tauranga that we’ve taken the second option, hence why they are clashing.”
A winner of five of her 10 starts at 1600m, Concert Hall won last year’s Group 3 Manawatu Cup (2300m) at Awapuni and looks to have an exciting future as a stayer but James is happy to take his chances with her at 1600m again at Trentham on Saturday. “It’s a big mile down there, She’s been down there twice and won on both occasions over the distance. I’m confident we can get another good mile out of her,” James said.
Concert Hall has drawn out in barrier 11 in the 12-horse race with Hypnos set to get an economical run from barrier one just as he did in winning the Coupland’s Mile at Riccarton last month. He floated back to Cambridge straight after the race and spent six days on James’ farm before heading to Margaret Park to utilise the water treadmill at that Pukemoremore facility.
“We’ve used that quite a lot this preparation after every run and it seems to have worked. He’s come back tremendously really,” James said. “I expect a good run but know that Group 1s are never easy to win. “It would be special to win with Hypnos because Ron and Fran (Dixon, owners) have been with me since day one and Ron is a past president at Wellington Racing Club and I know to win a Group 1 on his home course would be extra special.”
James and Wellwood will also produce three runners at Ellerslie on Saturday with Sherrif and London Banker contesting the Vector Wero Whitewater Park 2100, both on trial for Saturday week’s Group 3 SkyCity Hamilton Waikato Cup (2400m) at Te Rapa, and impressive maiden winner One More Time tackling the Westinghouse 1200.
Per Incanto filly One More Time scored by six lengths at Avondale on debut and hadn’t taken a backwards step ahead of her weekend assignment according to James. “She couldn’t have been more impressive at her two trials and her first start. She’s a filly that doesn’t tell you a lot in her work but we’re happy with her,” he said. “She should be hard to beat again. Her winning time was a second and a half faster than the next 1200m race and she’s won by six lengths pulling up.”