It’s hard to believe that outstanding galloper Te Akau Shark does not have a Group One win to his name, but the striking chestnut with a cult-following is strongly favoured to put that misnomer to bed on Saturday at Te Rapa.
The Jamie Richards-trained gelding is set to commence a new campaign in the Gr.1 BCD Group Sprint (1400m), where TAB Bookmakers have installed the five-year-old as a $1.70 favourite.
The lightly-tried galloper finished second in a trial behind Catalyst at Matamata last month, before an impressive solo gallop between races at Ellerslie’s Karaka Million meeting and trainer Jamie Richards is confident he can break his Group One duck this weekend.
“He is forward enough,” Richards said.
“He has had a trial and a decent exhibition gallop and he is a naturally fit horse that should be ready to rock ’n’ roll.”
Richards believes the Group Two winner that boasts placings in the Gr.1 Cox Plate (2040m) and Gr.1 Epsom Handicap (1600m) at his two most recent spring outings, has returned a stronger horse.
“He is certainly carrying a bit more condition,” Richards said.
“This is the first time that we have ever been able to give him a spring campaign and then bring him back for an autumn campaign.
“Each year before this he has sort of gone off a little bit and needed a good long spell, so I guess that is one query but we are very happy with him.
“The plan has been to kick him off here before we look at Sydney and it would be great if he could get that Group One for his CV before he headed over the Tasman.”
Despite the only obvious pacemaker being last-start Group One winner The Mitigator, Richards is not fazed by the potential sit-and-sprint tactics.
“I am not too concerned about that. From barrier 4, Opie (Bosson, jockey) has got options. The track looked a picture when we were there for the barrier draw (Wednesday) and hopefully it is going to play nice and fair.
“He is probably best suited at a mile to 2000m now, but I think 1400m fresh really suits him.”
Safely through his fresh-up run at Te Rapa, Te Akau Shark will likely follow the Group One trail blazed by champion mare Winx during the Sydney autumn carnival.
The son of Rip Van Winkle will contest the Group One trio of the Chipping Norton Stakes (1600m) on February 29, George Ryder Stakes (1500m) on March 21 and Queen Elizabeth Stakes (2000m) on April 11 – the same three races Winx made her own in 2017, ‘18 and ‘19.
“Three weeks between each run I think suits him and hopefully there is a little give in the ground in Sydney,” Richards said.
Stablemate Avantage looks the hardest to beat in the eight-horse field on Saturday, with Richards describing the last-start Group One winner as being in career-best form.
“She is going really well and I am very happy with her soundness,” he said.
“She has been a filly that has had a few niggles along the way, hence why she missed the spring of her three-year-old season.
“I thought she was terrific in the Telegraph (Gr.1, 1200m) and there is no indication at home that she has trained off. She has gone forward and I think the three weeks since the Telegraph really suits her.
“We’ve got a few options that we want to consider. One of them is Otaki (Gr.1, 1600m) and the other is Australia, but we just want to get through Saturday first and then work it out.”
Meanwhile, star mare Melody Belle will have a solid hitout in a 1050m trial before the races at Tauranga on Thursday.
“She took a while to come to hand in the spring, but I have had her well-ready this time,” Richards said of the 10-time Group One winner.
“We’re not going over to run in the Futurity (Gr.1, 1400m) half-fit. She has been in work a while and has had a good exhibition gallop and she will have a good, solid trial at Tauranga tomorrow.
“We have got a bit of time up our sleeve when she gets over to Melbourne to possibly give her another jump-out or take her to Caulfield and give her a gallop before the Futurity on the 22nd.”
Richards also reported that quality three-year-old Probabeel had come through her exertions when winning the Karaka Million 3YO Classic (1600m) in fine fettle.
“She had a week in the paddock after the Karaka Million 3YO,” he said.
“She flies to Sydney next week and will trial at Randwick on the 17th and then she runs in the Surround (Gr.1, 1400m) on the 29th.”