Cambridge trainer Shaune Ritchie is eyeing a tilt at the Gr.3 Wellington Cup (3200m) in January with Excalibur who will begin his Cups campaign in the MWIS Lawyers (1400m) at Ruakaka on Saturday.
The Tavistock gelding is the winner of six races, including three in a row before his unplaced last-start run in the Gr.1 Auckland Cup (3200m), but his trainer isn’t expecting too much from the gelding fresh-up.
“He’s going to be in need of the run,” Ritchie said. “He hasn’t raced since the Auckland Cup and he’s a five-year-old now, so I would expect the 1400m to be too sharp for him.
“We’re just looking to work our way up. I don’t think he was competitive last year as a four-year-old until he got to 2000m-plus, so I wouldn’t think being a year older he would be any different this preparation.
“We thought we would take advantage of a decent track at Ruakaka and get his spring and summer cups campaign underway.”
Ritchie said he thinks Excalibur is better suited to handicap conditions and is planning the gelding’s spring and summer campaign accordingly.
“He probably was inconvenienced by the set weights and penalties conditions of the Auckland Cup,” he said.
“We’ll probably head for the Wellington Cup this season instead of an Auckland Cup. He’s probably going to take a couple of runs to get to his peak fitness and up to the trip we are looking for.
“I think races like the Waikato Cup, Counties Cup or the Avondale Cup would be within his range because he is probably in a nice position in the weights.
“We are keen to roll the dice and the Wellington Cup would certainly suit better than an Auckland Cup given the conditions of the races.”
Meanwhile, later in the day Ritchie will line-up Swisswatch in the Harcourts Bream Bay (1200m), but he holds concerns about drawing the outside barrier.
“If there was another option we would certainly be scratching on Saturday from gate 17,” he said. “It’s a horror draw for a horse who races forward and on the pace, so we can envisage him having a tough run.
“But with Eilish’s (McCall, jockey) four kilo claim we are hoping that he can sneak in somewhere and run a cheeky race, but that draw is a big question mark.”
Swisswatch was also nominated for the Swiss Ace Trophy (1300m) at Hastings on the same day, but being the fourth emergency and a poor weather forecast dictated that the four-year-old gelding would head to Ruakaka.
“We did prefer to go to Ruakaka because we thought that with the forecast earlier in the week that there might be a chance that it could be wet at Hastings,” Ritchie said.
“We have no choice but to give him a run really, but he’s a big risk from that barrier.”
Ritchie said Swisswatch would be targeted towards premier meetings this spring, where he can hopefully add to his two wins.
“We have a bit of a plan for him to roll through the grades at premier meetings and hopefully get up to race for some good stake money on Saturdays while he is still going through the grades.”