Trainers Bob and Jenny Vance are hoping their stable star Royal Performer can cap his season off in style when he contests the Group 2 City Of Palmerston North Awapuni Gold Cup (2000m) on Saturday.
The eight-year-old gelding has given the South Auckland couple a great ride this season, winning on four occasions, including the Group 1 Herbie Dyke Stakes (2000m) at Te Rapa in February.
He subsequently finished fifth behind Melody Belle in the Group 1 Bonecrusher New Zealand Stakes (2000m) at Ellerslie, a race he didn’t get all favours in after drawing the outside gate in the eight horse field.
“He has come through the race really well, but he didn’t have much of a race to be honest,” Bob Vance said.
“I think he was a victim of circumstance. He drew the outside barrier and had to go back to last.
“He came home the second fastest in the race behind Melody Belle. That was pretty encouraging.”
Royal Performer has once again drawn an outside barrier on Saturday, however, on a rain-affected track Vance said drawing barrier 16 could work in their favour.
“I think the barrier is going to be okay,” he said. “The track is going to be off a bit and I think an outside barrier is going to be an advantage over an inside barrier, especially by race nine.”
Vance is pleased with his charge heading into the weekend, but he does hold plenty of respect for his opposition, including Callsign Mav, who Royal Performer’s regular jockey Jonathan Riddell has elected to ride.
“The top four or five horses have been racing in weight-for-age races against each other, so they are going to be pretty competitive in a race like this, being set weights and penalties,” Vance said.
The Awapuni track was rated a Slow8 on Wednesday morning, and with rain forecast in the lead-up to Saturday Vance said he is unsure how Royal Performer will handle a wet track.
“He has a question mark over a wet track,” Vance said. “But he did run on a wet track in England where he ran fourth behind subsequent Group One winner Galileo Gold.”
The Gold Cup will be Royal Performer’s last start this preparation and Vance said he will be sent for a well-deserved spell in preparation for some lofty targets next season.