Tony Pike had three starters in all of August. Over the next three days, he will have 20.
The Cambridge trainer has quickly ramped up his spring team and at Taupo, Hastings, Riccarton and Pukekohe, he will present four runners in three stakes races and unleash a team preparing for an array of feature targets.
“August was extremely wet and we only had three runners but we had plenty trial up at Te Teko and Cambridge getting ready,” Pike said.
“We’ve got a big weekend ahead and while the majority of them will improve ahead of their main spring aims, we’re expecting to see them run well. We’ve got seven in at Riccarton and we’ve just tried to split them up.”
Heading the Riccarton team are Wekaforce and Luvlucy, who contest the Listed New Zealand Bloodstock Canterbury Belle Stakes (1200m), having chased subsequent Gr.3 Northland Breeders’ Stakes (1200m) winner Melt at Ruakaka at their last start.
“The two fillies we’ve got down there probably wouldn’t have been quite competitive enough with Avantage and Melt in the north so we’ve tried to target black-type down there and hopefully they can continue to improve to be Guineas contenders,” Pike said.
TAB bookmakers have installed Wekaforce a $3 favourite for the Canterbury Belle Stakes after her second placing to Melt at Ruakaka, with Luvlucy a $6.50 third favourite behind Emily Margaret at $5.
“Wekaforce did plenty of work to get across from the wide gate but she fought well and was beaten by a very good filly. That Melt form has been franked and this should be a bit easier,” Pike said.
“We rode Luvlucy quietly and she closed the race off nicely. Up in distance and racing on the big roomy Riccarton track will help her. They are both bringing that Melt form and I’d be disappointed if they didn’t go well.”
Pike said there were several three-year-old options for both fillies to progress towards the Gr.1 gavelhouse.com 1000 Guineas (1600m) at Riccarton on November 17, provided they performed to expectations on Saturday.
The 1000 Guineas is also the target for Stella Noire, who tackles Saturday’s Gr.3 Hawke’s Bay Breeders Gold Trail Stakes (1200m) at Hastings after a mystifying last-start failure.
Asked what went wrong with the Showcasing filly’s unplaced resuming run at Hastings three weeks ago, Pike said: “I have no idea. Maybe the track? She’s come through the race well and her work since has been sensational with the blinkers on. She’ll race in blinkers on Saturday and from a good gate, I’d expect to see a big improvement from her.”
TAB bookmakers have Stella Noire a $5.20 third favourite for the Gold Trail Stakes behind Group One winner Avantage at $1.85 and impressive last-start Taupo winner Xpression at $3.90.
“She’ll probably stay up north if she continues to improve and we’ll look at the Soliloquy Stakes and the Sarten Memorial and if she’s racing well enough, we’ll look at taking her down to the 1000 Guineas after that,” Pike said.
Pike’s other stakes runner this weekend is Group Three-placed Caricature in Sunday’s Listed Haunui Farm Karaka Classic (1600m) at Pukekohe.
“We scratched her at Ruakaka last week knowing she’d get too far back from the wide draw and this is really the only other suitable option for the next couple of weeks. It’s really just a throw at the stumps,” Pike said.
“But she looks up to that class, even as only a one-win mare.”