Group 1-winning filly Jennifer Eccles has returned to the Cambridge stable of Shaune Ritchie and will be a prepared for a campaign in Melbourne in spring. A dominant winner of the Group 1 New Zealand Oaks (2400m), Jennifer Eccles also took out the NZB Filly of the Year series and has been a model of consistency throughout her classic year.
“She is not actually back in work per se. She is back in the stable, where we are boxing her at night and keeping her in the paddock,” Ritchie said. “We will get her to the track next week and start a prep towards Melbourne in the spring. “She probably hasn’t grown a hell of a lot but she has really filled out across the hind quarter and that is going to help her.”
The Group 2 Let’s Elope Stakes (1400m) at Flemington on September 12 is the likely starting point for Jennifer Eccles, with Ritchie having won the race previously with Zurella in 2012. “I think it is the perfect kick off,” Ritchie said. “It is set weights and penalties for mares and it is a nice little stepping stone and then what we can do is pick and choose our way from there.”
Ritchie said he would assess whether Jennifer Eccles remained in mares grade or stepped up to a weight-for-age path in what could be a unique spring carnival. “I think the beauty of Melbourne is there are so many options,” he said. “They’re not even racing in England yet, so there could be a significant downturn in the type of horse that comes internationally for the carnival and that could technically make the carnival one of the weakest in years.
“How good she is, well we don’t even know. Clearly, she is far superior to the horses she has been racing against but how far that is going to take us on an Australasian weight-for-age scale, who would know? “She has improved physically and it is exciting for us to get over there and find out.”
Ritchie said he was unlikely to have many horses ready to commence in July when New Zealand Racing returns to action, with a focus on the early spring. The multiple Group 1-winning trainer also revealed he is likely to have a team of horses campaigning in Melbourne this spring. “The Good Fight will join Jennifer Eccles in Melbourne. He could go to Country Cups or if he measures up, he could press through town, just depending on where he sits.
“Swiss Watch is also likely to join those horses and we are giving consideration to adding a nice horse coming through the grades like Rum. “Because the costs are going to be down with more horses going, he might be suited to racing for the better prizemoney over there as well. “It is nice when you’ve got owners who are prepared to back you and they allow you to take these horses over there without losing them to Australian trainers. “If it is for the best for them to stay over there after that, well so be it, but it is nice to at least be able to have a chance with horses that you have developed from yearlings.”
As per previous winters, Ritchie will utilise the facilities at Ruakaka with some members of his team to give them an opportunity to launch into spring racing off a better surface. “We have got some cracking rising three-year-olds,” Ritchie said. “With the construction of the Polytrack going on in Cambridge, I am very keen to get those horses that we are looking at Classic races with or going to Australia up to Ruakaka for a couple of weeks, which we’ve always done.
“With there being no winter racing up there this year, that course proper is going to be like galloping on pillows. “We have had a lot of success just going up there for two weeks. We get three nice hit-outs into them and then we bring them home and just back off them a little and we find it gives them a great grounding, whereas the tracks in the Waikato are significantly heavier.”