Tony Pike is hoping several of his team can book themselves a trip to Australia when they head to Hastings on Saturday.
The Cambridge trainer will start last year’s Group 1 New Zealand Derby (2400m) winner Sherwood Forest in the Listed Power Farming Hawke’s Bay Cup (2200m), while his exciting two-year-old Rangi Toa and three-year-old Dawn Parade could also earn themselves a plane ticket with good performances.
Sherwood Forest missed spring and summer racing after returning lame in his only spring start, a 1400m handicap at Ellerslie in September. He returned to racing in March, finishing behind the placegetters in two races over 1400m and 1600m, and gets a suitable middle distance race for the first time this season at Hastings.
“He’s a natural stayer and he’s done plenty of work ahead of this. His two lead-up efforts with 62 kilos were not bad and this looks like a suitable race for him,” Pike said.
“It’s unfortunate he got injured in his first start this season at Ellerslie so we had to turn him out for a fair length of time, but he’s started to head back towards his peak and shouldn’t be too far away from that on Saturday.”
If he performs well, Sherwood Forest could be off to Victoria for late autumn races such as the Listed Warnambool Cup (2350m) on May 5 and the Listed Andrew Ramsden Stakes (2800m) at Flemington on May 15.
The latter race earns the winner a direct entry into the Group 1 Melbourne Cup (3200m) in November.
“Obviously that’s a bit of a pipe dream, but if he happened to run well at Hastings there’s two or three nice options in Victoria, and if he happened to win the Ramsden that would be a great result,” Pike said.
Rangi Toa, who won his debut at New Plymouth despite being caught wide most of the race, starts in the Grochem 2YO (1300m). Pike said an impressive victory could result in him heading to Queensland for the Group 2 BRC Sires’ Produce Stakes (1400m) on May 29 and the Group 1 J J Atkins (1600m) on June 12.
Pike won the J.J. Atkins in 2016 with Sacred Elixir so he is well aware of the level of ability Rangi Toa needs to display to earn himself a trip.
“He’d have to be extremely impressive on Saturday, but he’s a progressive two-year-old, a big strong type that would suit a Queensland campaign,” he said.
“We won’t make any decisions until he’s run on Saturday, but to go to Queensland you’d expect him to win and win well.”
Rangi Toa’s rivals are likely to include his stablemate Tutukaka, a half-brother to Melody Belle by Tavistock who has yet to race. Pike said Tutukaka was a staying type and should be a good three-year-old but was likely to find Rangi Toa too tough.
Dawn Parade, who races in a Rating 65 1200m event at Hastings, is another that could earn a Queensland trip.
He was unfortunate to run into Amarelinha on debut, finishing second to the subsequent Group One winner on that occasion. The gelding then won a 1400m maiden at Te Rapa before finishing seventh at his only subsequent start on January 15.
Michael McNab will head to Hastings to ride Sherwood Forest and Rangi Toa.
Another Queensland candidate could be Not An Option, who hasn’t run since an issue with cardiac arrhythmia in the Group 2 Sarten Memorial (1400m) at Te Rapa in October.
He will trial at Taupo on April 27, and a good run there could earn him a trip across the Tasman.
“He won very impressively fresh-up at Matamata in spring, beating Rocket Spade, before the heart fibrillation at Te Rapa, and he chipped a fetlock joint there as well,” Pike said.
“It’s been very frustrating and we haven’t seen the best of him, but he’s come back from all that and his jumpout last Friday was very impressive, so we’re getting him back close to his best.”