Cambridge trainer Tony Pike knows his Group 1 winning filly Loire has got her work cut out to turn the tables on quality rival Jennifer Eccles when the pair clash again in the Group 1 Al Basti Equiworld Dubai New Zealand Oaks (2400m). But he is confident the daughter of Redoute’s Choice will be suited by the extended distance at Trentham on Saturday and has timing on her side.
Loire has clashed with the Shaune Ritchie-trained Jennifer Eccles on five occasions and has beaten the $1.95 Oaks favourite home in three of those five contests. However, the last two clashes have gone the way of Jennifer Eccles, who has displayed a superior turn of foot in both the Group 2 Lowland Stakes (2100m) and Group 2 Fillies Classic (2000m) to dominate her rivals.
“We have targeted Loire to peak on Saturday so it wouldn’t surprise me if she finished a lot closer than her last two starts,” Pike said. “Her work has been super this week. “A mile and a half around Trentham is a lot different to 2000m around Hawke’s Bay and Te Rapa.”
Pike will also saddle Listed winner Seven Seas in the race but concedes she will have to rely on her staying prowess without having the class of her stablemate. “She might not have the class of Jennifer Eccles and Loire but I know she will stay,” Pike said. “She will run out a strong mile and a half. I think being left-handed will help her a touch as well. “If she can get some sort of trip from a wide gate (18) she will probably be right there in the finish, it is just whether she has the class to win the race.”
Pike knows what it takes to win the New Zealand Oaks, having prepared More Than Sacred to win in 2013 when training in partnership with Mark Donoghue. “More Than Sacred was a real dour staying filly, maybe like Seven Seas but probably a touch better,” he said. “Loire has a touch of class, she won the New Zealand 1000 Guineas (Group 1, 1600m) and as long as she sees out the mile and a half, which I think she will, then I think she will be one of my better chances of winning another Oaks.”
While the Lowland and Fillies Classic have been sit-and-sprint races, Pike is expecting there to be more speed on in the full field on Saturday. The astute trainer felt there were similarities with the New Zealand Derby (Group 1, 2400m) which was billed as a match race between Two Illicit and Dragon Leap but was ultimately won by the Pike- trained Sherwood Forest, who proved the superior stayer. “Going through the field I think there are a couple that will roll forward and try and make it a staying test as their only chance, just like in the Derby.
“Seven Seas will go forward to a certain extent, but she won’t be leading the race. I think it will be a lot truer run race than it has been in the past couple (of fillies’ races). “Jennifer Eccles is obviously an exceptional filly, but taking the even money is a bit short considering the race it is and especially from the wide gate (19).
“The same query could be asked of Loire (barrier 15) with her first go at a mile and a half. Sometimes those fillies with a little bit of brilliance struggle to get the distance. “It is quite an intriguing race with the way the barrier draw has come out it has evened up the field a little bit more than what it was probably going to.”
Bred by Trelawney Stud and raced by principals Brent and Cherry Taylor in partnership with their good friend Kate Plaw, Loire is in contention for a trip across the Tasman should she perform well, with Oaks options in Sydney, Adelaide and Brisbane. Pike will be looking to keep the good times rolling, having trained Group 1 winners over the past two weekends, with Sherwood Forest (New Zealand Derby) and The Bostonian (Canterbury Stakes, 1300m).
“The Bostonian has bounced through his win really well. I couldn’t be happier with him and he will take his place in the George Ryder (Group 1, 1500m) on Saturday week,” Pike said. “There will be a change of rider. Nash (Rawiller) had already committed himself to Dreamforce and couldn’t get a release so James McDonald will ride him. “We will see how he goes in the George Ryder. That last race didn’t seem to take a lot out of him. If he happens to run well in the George Ryder there is a chance he will stay in Sydney and run in the All Aged Stakes (Group 1, 1400m) three weeks later.”
The 45-year-old conditioner continues to make a positive impression on both sides of the Tasman landing his fifth Australian Group 1 last week and the spinoff has been welcoming more Australian owners into the stable. “I have picked up a fair few Australian owners over the last couple of seasons that have either sent horses over here (New Zealand) to train or else have had yearlings here that they have left with me. “You do get those phone calls and it is always in the back of your mind that you think you probably should be over there, but it is getting a lot easier to travel now.
“New Zealand is still the best place to develop a horse, especially in Cambridge which is getting a new synthetic track shortly.” Pike said the trans-Tasman New Zealand success this season was partially down to the fact a few of the better horses had been retained as opposed to sold offshore. “I am lucky enough to have an established horse in The Bostonian and Te Akau have Te Akau Shark, Melody Belle and Probabeel who are all exceptional horses. It is a time when some of those horses that normally would have been sold have been retained in New Zealand and they are proving they are as good as the Australian horses and we can train them just as well as they can as well.”
New Zealand Derby winner Sherwood Forest is another that Pike is looking forward to campaigning in Sydney in the near future, with part-owner and breeder Matt Goodson rebuffing several international offers to date. “Matt has had a few approaches,” Pike said. “He owns the mare and they are having a lot of fun racing him so there is no mention of selling him at this stage. “He gets on the plane on Monday night and runs in the Rosehill Guineas (Group 1, 2000m) next Saturday, with his main target the Australian Derby (Group 1, 2400m) two weeks later.”
While throughout his training career Pike has watched a number of his most talented gallopers exit the stable for foreign shores, he was pleased to welcome back Group 1 winner Sacred Elixir on Thursday. Pike prepared the son of Pour Moi to win the Group 1 JJ Atkins Stakes (1600m) in Queensland as a two-year-old before winning the Group 2 Moonee Valley Vase (2040m) and finishing runner up in the Group 1 VRC Derby (2500m) at three before his sale to Hong Kong.
“He had his first day on the track this morning,” Pike said. “He came back from Hong Kong with a suspensory injury and has had a hell of a lot of rehab. He has been on the water treadmill for the last six weeks and arrived back in the stables yesterday. “Hopefully we can keep him sound and get him back to his best because he is an exceptional galloper.”