The Listed Barfoot & Thompson Gingernuts Salver (2100m) has become one of Stephen Marsh’s favourite stops along the road to the Gr.1 New Zealand Derby (2400m), and a last-gasp triumph by Cruz Missile at Pukekohe on Sunday gave the Cambridge trainer his third win in the last four years.
Marsh had previously won the Salver with Scorpz and Milford, who both went on to make their presence felt in the Derby. Scorpz ran third to Sherwood Forest and Two Illicit in the 2020 edition of the Ellerslie classic, while Milford was runner-up behind Rocket Spade a year later.
Cruz Missile comes from a similar mould to Milford, both being sons of super-sire Savabeel and both racing in the distinctive green, blue and yellow silks of Lib Petagna’s JML Bloodstock Ltd – colours that were also carried by Marsh’s 2019 Derby hero Crown Prosecutor.
Sunday’s Salver marked the first step up beyond a mile for Cruz Missile, who had made a favourable impression from his three previous career starts. He produced an eye-catching late run for second on debut over 1300m at Hastings, then failed on heavy ground at Tauranga before a dominant last-start maiden success over 1560m at Rotorua.
In a messy race, Cruz Missile landed in a perfect position sitting in third on the rail as Highly Vindicated and Loosespender set a sedate pace in front.
There were a few nervous moments after rounding the home turn, with jockey Michael McNab trying to angle Cruz Missile to the outside but being held in a pocket by Bitcoin.
By the time Cruz Missile finally found clear air, Devildom had dashed through along the inside and opened up what appeared to be a winning break.
But Cruz Missile worked through his gears and lengthened stride impressively in the final 150m, snatching victory right on the line by a long head.
“The first part of the race was great, he relaxed so beautifully,” Marsh said. “It got a bit hairy coming into the straight, he was hemmed away and I was a bit worried.
“But he found a way out and he was very good to the line. I really loved the way he knuckled down late.”
The TAB reacted to the victory by halving Cruz Missile’s New Zealand Derby odds from $16 to $8. He now shares second favouritism with Legarto and Waitak, while Sharp ‘N’ Smart retains favouritism at $5.
“It’s not long ago that he won a maiden mile,” Marsh said. “We’ve backed him up quickly from that today, so he’s got a fair bit ahead of him. I don’t see why he can’t be a Derby contender. He’s by Savabeel and has an absolutely outstanding temperament.
“We’ve got a couple of Guineas races to choose from between here and the Derby, so we’ll get him home and work it out as we go.”
Runner-up Devildom has also shortened in the Derby market, moving from $16 to $12.
The third-placed Bitcoin is not nominated for the Derby but also impressed with his performance on Sunday. Trained by Andrew Forsman, the lightly raced Tarzino gelding is a full-brother to Gr.1 Queensland Oaks (2200m) winner Gypsy Goddess.
Cruz Missile was bought by Bruce Perry Bloodstock for $160,000 from Book 1 of Karaka 2021, and he is owned by JML Bloodstock in partnership with a syndicate that includes his breeder Jim Barlow in addition to Tony Joyce and Barlow’s cousin Max Brown.
From four starts, Cruz Missile has recorded two wins and a placing.
Cruz Missile became the 129th individual stakes winner for Savabeel, who has 40 yearlings catalogued for Book 1 of Karaka 2023 later this month.
The Salver was the second leg of a double at Pukekohe for Marsh’s Savabeel three-year-olds.
In the previous race on the card, Mazzolino capitalised on a gun ride by Craig Grylls to take out the NZB Karaka 2023 Trainers Series (1500m) by a long neck.
It was the second win of an eight-start career for the Waikato Stud homebred, who has placed in another four races including the Gr.3 Gold Trail Stakes (1200m). She also ran fifth in the Gr.3 Soliloquy Stakes (1400m) in October.
“I was delighted with that win,” Marsh said. “Gryllsy gave her a great ride and had her travelling nicely outside the leader. Diss Is Dramatic looked like she might go past her in the straight, but she kicked really well and was brave.
“She’ll go to the Desert Gold Stakes (Gr.3, 1600m) at Trentham later in the month. I think the mile at Wellington will really suit her. A few of the other three-year-olds are heading towards the Karaka Million 3YO, but we’re happy to chase the black type with this filly.”