Melody Belle will attempt to defend her title in the Gr.2 U S Navy Flag Foxbridge Plate (1200m) at Te Rapa on Saturday.
The six-time Group One winner provided Jamie Richards with his first stakes win as sole Te Akau trainer in the race last season after an inch-perfect ride by Shafiq Rusof.
Richards also saddles Gr.2 Coupland’s Bakeries Mile (1600m) winner Te Akau Shark who opened as a $2.20 favourite with TAB bookmakers, and was quickly supported with a bet of $10,000, ahead of Melody Belle at $3.80, and Helena Baby at $4.60.
In preparation, the pair trialled twice in July at Te Rapa, with Te Akau Shark coming from off the pace to win his two heats, while Melody Belle rounded off strongly for a third, before finishing camped on the leaders in fifth.
Neither has fared well at the barrier, with Melody Belle, to be ridden by Michael McNab, drawing the outside of 12 runners and Te Akau Shark, ridden by Opie Bosson, set to jump from barrier 11.
Despite their draws Richards has happy with both runners heading into their first assignment of the season.
“I’m happy with both of them,” Richards said. “Melody Belle, I thought she might have trialled a little bit better, although she got caught down in the worst of the ground. But that will bring her on and she is back in blinkers on Saturday.
“They haven’t made it easy for us given the draws, so they’ve got a job in front of them. That makes it tricky.
“Endless Drama is going to get the gun run and could be very hard to beat, because he looked super at the trials.”
Richards had no immediate thoughts as to how each would be ridden, preferring to wait and see how the track plays, but given his pattern of getting home from off the pace, Te Akau Shark would likely be given time to settle, while Melody Belle could seek a midfield position.
“Te Akau Shark probably trialled better than Melody Belle and heads into the race in really good order, but in saying that, it’s hard for a horse that hasn’t won a Group One to try and beat a horse that has won six. So it’s going to be a hell of benchmark for him, but both horses are going well.”
Melody Belle won the Foxbridge last year on Slow9 footing and could strike similar going this time, with the track currently rated a Heavy10 and little rain forecast until Saturday.
Following the trials on Tuesday at Avondale, Richards also reported on the performances and plans for high-class fillies Avantage and Probabeel.
“Neither of them could get going in the heavy ground, but they were still okay for what we wanted from them and a majority of our horses all trialled well,” he said.
“Probabeel is a very laidback filly, so is hard to get a line on, but I am really happy with how she looked at the stables this morning.
“She will more than likely head straight to Sydney, to get a bit of warmth on her back and hopefully get onto some better tracks over there.”
Richards suggested the Gr.2 Furious Stakes (1200m) at Randwick next month could be her starting point, while Avantage is earmarked for the Open 1200 metres at Ruakaka on August 31.
Gr.1 New Zealand Derby (2400m) runner-up In A Twinkling had his second outing this time in.
“He travelled really well to the corner, but Troy (Harris, jockey) said he floundered in the ground a little bit,” Richards said.
“He’s a really hard horse to place, because he’s only won one race but has got a rating of 86. So, for a 65 horse he’s now got to go up and race with quite a bit of weight in the Rating 82 grade.”
Richards said In A Twinkling could resume in a Rating 82 1400m at Ruakaka later this month.