Mark Brosnan will attempt to honour an old mate when he produces Arjay's Flight as the sole maiden runner in Saturday's Gr.1 Vodafone New Zealand Derby (2400m) at Ellerslie.
For many years Brosnan trained alongside Richard Coxon at Matamata and the pair forged an enduring friendship.
“R J” Coxon prepared the likes of 15-win galloper Desert Flight and his 12-win half-brother Last Flight as well as Fellowship, who went on to top-level success in Hong Kong after he was bought from his stable.
A dairy farmer who trained racehorses more as a hobby, Coxon died of cancer in 2015. Coxon, his wife Anna and his brother Wayne bred most of what he trained and Arjay's Flight represents the last of his breed.
Brosnan, who got involved in training for the Coxons when Richard's daughter Kim relinquished her trainers’ licence, would love to provide the family with a richly sentimental win in the biggest race on the New Zealand calendar.
"Kim Coxon got married and gave up training so the Coxons decided to give me Tammie Wynette, which was their pride and joy, and I trained her," Brosnan said.
"Then this one came along. He's the last one to do with Richard."
Brosnan was happy to try Arjay's Flight but was unimpressed with the Highly Recommended gelding at first.
"He was very lazy and I didn't think he had much at first but once we woke him up, he changed," Brosnan said.
Arjay's Flight is still chasing his first win from six starts but a second placing in a 1600m maiden at the Christmas meeting at Matamata earned him a start in the Listed Gingernuts Salver (2100m) at Ellerslie, in which he finished third.
That led to a start in the Gr.2 Waikato Guineas (2000m) at Te Rapa, in which he finished fourth, and that meant a start in the Gr.2 Avondale Guineas (2100m) at Ellerslie, his resulting second placing to Derby favourite La Crique assuring him of a start in the Classic.
"It was a pretty good run. He didn't get the best of runs in transit but still kicked on well so I was very happy," Brosnan said of the Avondale Guineas run.
TAB bookmakers have Arjay's Flight as a $15 sixth favourite for the Derby in a market headed by La Crique at $1.85 and Pinarello at $3.80.
Brosnan, who produced his best horse Veloce Bella for a luckless seventh in the 2007 Derby, gave Arjay's Flight a searching trackwork gallop at Matamata on Tuesday and was delighted with his condition going into the race.
"I asked a bit of him. He needed a good hitout," Brosnan said.
"He's very casual. He just pops around and does what you want him to but he can liven up when he needs to. He's really well. He seems to have done well since Ellerslie and he's trained on well.
"A mile and a half looks like it will suit him. Looking at it, you'd think he would get the extra distance but you don't know until you try.
"You can't really think he could beat the filly (La Crique) but if bad luck goes her way and good luck goes ours, then we may be a chance."
The quietly spoken Brosnan said the big stage was unlikely to worry either him or his horse on Saturday.
"He's such a dude. He eats everything you put in front of him and he's a real character. It's just another day at the office, though it's just a bit bigger office this weekend." - NZ Racing Desk