Group One-winning jockey Racha Cuneen hopes a strong book of rides at Riccarton on Saturday will add further momentum to his recently-resumed New Zealand career.
Cuneen began his career in 2011 and rode more than 100 winners over the ensuing six seasons, capped with a Group One double in the 2016-17 season on La Diosa in the New Zealand 1000 Guineas (1600m) and Signify in the Telegraph (1200m).
He put his New Zealand career on hold when he relocated to Victoria at the beginning of 2018, but the 28-year-old returned to his homeland and resurrected his Kiwi career in late June. He has ridden three winners from his first 31 rides back on home soil.
“It’s been good so far, I’ve just been chipping away,” Cuneen said. “I had a little bit of trouble with my weight to start with, coming out of lockdown, but now I’m starting to get some good support and build up a little bit of momentum.
“I was originally planning to be here until New Zealand Cup Week and then make a decision about going back to Melbourne after that, but with everything that’s going on in Aussie at the moment with Covid-19, I think I’m going to be here for a good 12 months at least. We’ll have to wait and see what happens. But I’m really happy to be home at the moment and hoping to start riding a few more winners.”
Cuneen’s biggest win since his homecoming was at the Riccarton meeting two weeks ago, when he guided the well-performed He Kin Fly to a powerful come-from-behind victory in the $30,000 Gold Club Rating 94 (1200m).
Cuneen will continue his association with the eight-year-old Darci Brahma gelding in Saturday’s $30,000 Hygain/Mitavite Rating 98 (1200m).
“After what he did a couple of weeks ago, I’m really looking forward to riding him again,” Cuneen said. “It looks like he’ll be up against a similar sort of field again this weekend, and he drops in weight from 61.5kg to 60.5kg.
“If he repeats the performance he produced last time, he’d have to be very hard to beat again. Neill (Ridley, trainer) has been very happy with the horse in between times.”
He Kin Fly is a proven black-type performer, having won last year’s Listed Timaru Stakes (1400m) and Great Easter Stakes (1400m) and was a close fourth in the Gr.2 Coupland’s Bakeries Mile (1600m) last November.
“He’s a good horse and there’s a lot of nice races for him coming up through the spring in the South Island,” Cuneen said. “He’d definitely be a nice horse to try and stick with, heading into Cup Week in November.”
In the Jon Snow @ Clearview Park (1400m), Cuneen will have his first ride on the seven-race winner Neeson.
The O’Reilly gelding is trained by Stephen McKee at Ardmore but has enjoyed successful southern raids on Riccarton, winning two of his four starts at the course including this year’s Hororata Gold Cup (1800m).
That victory on March 21 was Neeson’s most recent appearance, and Cuneen pointed to the seven-year-old’s solid first-up record as a big tick in his favour for Saturday’s assignment. He finished third behind the speedy Wekaforce in a recent 850m trial.
“He’s a talented horse who’s done well here in the past and seems to go well fresh-up,” Cuneen said. “I haven’t had too much to do with the horse before, but I’ve watched a few of his replays and I’m very happy to be riding him. I’m hoping he fires on Saturday.”
Cuneen’s other mounts are on Seriously in the Speight’s Maiden (1400m), Sunny Lady in the Stallion Tender Open Now Maiden (1400m) and Nifty in the Cup Week Tickets On Sale September 1 Maiden (1800m).
Seriously is by O’Reilly out of Promenade, who is a half-sister to Group One winners Legs and Guyno, along with the dam of Tiptronic.
The Ridley-trained Seriously has had only two starts to date, finishing seventh on debut on August 1 and third a fortnight ago.
“I think Seriously is a pretty nice horse and should be a good chance on Saturday,” Cuneen said. “He ran over 1200 metres on debut and then went straight up to a mile last time, and he might have just not quite run it out. Going back to 1400 metres is going to suit him, and he’s been working really well.”
Sunny Lady has shown real ability at the trials and has run two placings in her eight-start career, but has been well beaten on all of the other six occasions.
“She’s definitely got the ability,” Cuneen said. “With her, it’s just a matter of whether she feels like doing it on the day. You never quite know what you’re going to get from her. But if she’s switched on, she’ll be very competitive.”