Last year's Group 1 Auckland Cup (3200m) winner Ocean Billy is somewhat of a surprise nomination for the Group 1 Tarzino Trophy (1400m) at Hawke's Bay on September 10.
The seven-year-old looked likely to be sidelined for the year following a tendon injury suffered when cast in his box in the Sydney stables of Chris Waller back in February.
However, the gelding, who has recently returned to the care of original trainer and part-owner Bill Pomare after a fruitless Caulfield Cup and Melbourne Cup campaign last spring, has made giant strides and he is likely to be seen back at the trials this week.
“He is very well. He came back from Australia super fit and he kept very active but his leg has settled down. There was hardly any sign of a tendon problem with him,” Pomare said.
“We brought him into work maybe seven weeks ago. He has bulked up and probably grown another hand and looks a different horse.
“He has that Australian polish on him that he developed in those few extra months they kept him over there.
“I couldn't be happier with him. He will go to the trials on the 24th at Taupo and from there straight to the Tarzino.”
Pomare was unable to travel to Melbourne last spring due to COVID restrictions, denying the build-up to the Cup first-hand access to one of life's great characters.
After a credible effort for ninth in the Group 1 Caulfield Cup (2400m), that run proved too taxing on the popular underdog, with Ocean Billy trailing the Melbourne Cup field home as star New Zealand bred mare Verry Elleegant raced away to a stirring victory.
“The Caulfield Cup took a bit out of him and he didn't eat a lot and he lost a bit of weight so had no petrol in the tank,” Pomare said.
“Chris was getting him ready for the Sydney Cup and before the first lead up race he rolled and got cast in his box and struck himself around the tendon.
“He was give anti-inflammatories straight away and although it was swollen, he never went lame.
“Because flights got cancelled and a few different things, it took ages to get him back home and he looked magnificent when he arrived. He looked like he was ready to go into a race straight away.
“I was leading him down the race and he was rearing and carrying on. I'd never seen anything like it.
“He improved every day from then and exercised himself in the paddock so by the time he came into work he had quite a bit of fitness.”
Pomare also took the horse in to be given the once-over at Matamata Vets and received the tick of approval.
The Rotorua horseman has no regrets about the failed Melbourne Cup bid and said that sentiment played a significant part, fulfilling the wish of part-owner Peter Ludgate to have a Cup runner, with Ludgate having since passed.
“Probably in a way it was a pity I couldn't have gone over with him because we do things a little bit different to what other people do with their horses,” Pomare said.
“He has just been like a big pet to us and he enjoys that and responds to that and once he got over there he did fret a bit.
“We knew that Peter was on borrowed time and he wouldn't see another Melbourne Cup Day.
“In hindsight, a mile and a half race on firmer footing and then going back this year would have been the go.”
Pomare has confidence that his versatile galloper can make an impression on the Hawke's Bay Triple Crown series.
“He can sprint a mean 1000m this horse and in the Auckland Cup that is what got him home. He can do it. He has won over 1400m and over a mile and I think he can sprint well fresh,” Pomare said.
The Group 1 Livamol Classic (2040m) on October 15 is expected to be the most suitable target for the son of Ocean Park while there are other Group One weight-for-age options into summer, although should he come up particularly well, Pomare hasn't ruled out a raid to Australia as any Trans-Tasman black-type would bolster the pedigree.
“His mother Cool Storm is due to foal in a couple of weeks to Ocean Park again. I haven't decided where she will go this year.”
Pomare is working a small team of three and said the horses are a family passion.
“I am just fortunate my wife Suzi is my number one stable person, she does everything and loves horses and my son's partner Laura rides work as well, so it is all taken care of,” he said.