Shaune Ritchie is hoping an annual winter stopover in Ruakaka will pave the way for an elusive win in the Group 1 Gavelhouse.com New Zealand 1000 Guineas (1600m) at Riccarton in November. Each year the Cambridge trainer sends a team of horses north to further their preparations for spring campaigns and he already has the promising rising three-year-old fillies Bella Mente and Jennifer Eccles on the list to head to Ruakaka at the end of this month.
“I’ve found it a great advantage at this time of year as, apart from being able to canter along the beach or just walk in the water, they also get to work on a beautiful track,” Ritchie said. “It pushes them a bit more forward and it’s worked well for me in past years. I usually have them up there for a minimum of 10 days and alternate by swapping them over when needed. “I usually send up eight or 10 and at this stage I’m still finalising the ones to go, though the definite ones are Bella Mente, Jennifer Eccles, The Good Fight, Swords Drawn and Excalibur.”
Bella Mente and Jennifer Eccles have both had spells since last racing, Bella Mente being out for a couple of months since finishing a close third behind Yourdeel in the Group 1 Manawatu Sires’ Produce Stakes (1400m) at Awapuni on March 30 and Jennifer Eccles having been put aside after a last-start third in the Listed Auckland Futurity Stakes (1400m) at Ellerslie on May 25. “They’re both exciting three-year-old prospects,” Ritchie said. “They’ve done well with their breaks and I’ll try and split them up when getting them ready for 1000 Guineas. “The 1000 Guineas is the one race I really want to win.
The label races for three-year-olds are the four big Group 1s – the 2000 Guineas (1600m), the New Zealand Derby (2400m), the New Zealand Oaks (2400m) and the 1000 Guineas. “I’ve won the 2000 Guineas with Magic Cape, the Derby with Military Move and won the Oaks twice and got the quinella once. I won it with Keep The Peace and quinellaed it with Artistic and Zurella. I just need the 1000 Guineas to get the box set and I think I’ve got a big chance this year.”
Ritchie finished second in the 2016 New Zealand 1000 Guineas with Bella Gioia and he believes her half-sister Bella Mente has the talent to go one better. Bella Mente won her second start at Matamata then returned to the scene to finish a creditable fourth behind Aretha in the Group 2 Matamata Breeders’ Stakes (1200m) last February before going down a long neck and a neck in the Group 1 Manawatu Sires’ Produce Stakes. “She’s come back in looking great,” Ritchie said. “She’s a lovely strong filly and the way she ran out the 1400m in the Sires’ Produce Stakes she should have no trouble with the 1600m at Riccarton.”
Jennifer Eccles, a daughter of Rip Van Winkle, has finished third in both her starts. Her debut effort was at Matamata in early May after a trials win and she was beaten a long head and long neck by Rhaegar in the Auckland Futurity Stakes. Ritchie is also looking forward to spring-summer campaigns with The Good Fight, Swords Drawn and Excalibur.
The Good Fight began the season as a maiden with a couple of seconds to his credit and after two wins he started favourite in the Dunstan Feeds Stayers Championship Final (2200m) at Ellerslie on New Year’s Day when charging home for second behind Starrybeel. The four-year-old son of High Chaparral and Australasian Group winner Pravda then stepped up to open company in the Karaka Cup (2200m) and was a solid fourth to Five To Midnight before making ground into ninth in the Group 2 Avondale Cup (2400m), his last run of the campaign. “He’s got the makings of a good stayer,” Ritchie said. “We’ll try and work him through the grades and if he comes up well he could go to Melbourne. If not, he’s an ideal type for races like the Counties Cup and Waikato Cup.”
Swords Drawn is a maiden with four placings from nine starts, but those placings include a second to subsequent Group 1 New Zealand Derby (2400m) winner Crown Prosecutor in the Group 3 Wellington Stakes (1600m) at Trentham and a third to Cutadeel in the Listed 3YO Salver (2100m) at Ellerslie. He later finished unplaced in the Listed Karaka Million 3YO Classic (1600m), the Group 2 Avondale Guineas (2100m) and the New Zealand Derby. “He’s got the ability and he’s got the luxury of being a maiden so he can roll through the grades to get his confidence up,” Ritchie said.