IN Racing
Derby hope confirmed Pukekohe runner
Group One performer Desert Lightning is unlikely to get his preferred footing in Saturday’s Gr.2 AJC Avondale Guineas but will start regardless.
NZ Racing Desk | February 15, 2023
Desert Lightning (inside). Photo: Kenton Wright (Race Images)

Group One performer Desert Lightning is unlikely to get his preferred footing at Pukekohe in Saturday’s Gr.2 AJC Avondale Guineas (2000m), but will start regardless with his future grand final in mind.

The talented three-year-old’s preparation revolves around the Gr.1 Auckland Thoroughbred Racing New Zealand Derby (2400m) at Te Rapa on March 4 and this weekend’s assignment is crucial to his progress toward the Blue Riband event.

“He has to run whether it’s wet or fine, if he’s going to the Derby he has to have a run,” said Peter Williams, who trains the son of Pride Of Dubai with wife Dawn.

“We’ll have to see what the track does on Saturday, but if it’s reasonable he will be alright.”

Desert Lightning was freshened after his close second in the Gr.1 New Zealand 2000 Guineas (1600m) and returned to finish fifth in the Listed Uncle Remus Stakes (1400m).

He then stepped out in the Karaka Million 3YO Classic (1600m) and, after jumping awkwardly, he cleared traffic 300m from home and finished off strongly for third for rider Vinnie Colgan, who will take the mount again.

Williams said he couldn’t fault Desert Lightning’s condition, who impressed in a recent exhibition gallop at Te Rapa with the underfoot conditions the only question mark on Saturday.

“His form is right up there, but he does have to have a good track. He’s a big, long striding horse,” he said.

“He’s in great order, I know that. We’ve always been keen to have a go at the Derby with him.”

Desert Lightning is currently on the third line of betting at $10 for the Classic and there is confidence he will cope with the distance.

“I think he will run the trip as long as he settles. Once they get to 2000m they can sometimes want to over race, but he has had enough racing now to learn to settle during the running and finish it off,” Williams said.

The stable will also be represented on Saturday by Cool Change, Our Tristabelle, Helsinki and Volare with the former in the Network Visuals Handicap (1200m).

“It might be a bit short for her, but she’s been off the scene so she needs to have a race somewhere so it might as well be on her back door,” Williams said.

Cool Change was a winner at Te Rapa before she was unplaced in the Gr.2 Rich Mile (1600m) on New Year’s Day after the Showcasing mare was denied racing room in the closing 200m.

Our Tristabelle will be chasing consecutive wins after her last-start success on a heavily rain-affected track at Tauranga when she steps out in the Ecochill Handicap (1600m).

“She was very good and likes the sting out of the tracks and has been working well since,” Williams said.

Proisir mare Volare is in the Mainland Handicap (1500m) and broke her maiden two runs back at Te Rapa before a solid effort for fourth at Te Rapa.

“She went a good race the other day and missed the jump a little bit and then got squeezed and ran on well,” Williams said.

“She’s coming back 100m, but if the track is wet it’s not going to worry her.”

Stablemate Helsinki will oppose her in the Rating 65 event and while she can mix her form, there was merit in her last-start sixth on the course.

Desert Lightning Gr.2 AJC Avondale Guineas Gr.1 Auckland Thoroughbred Racing New Zealand Derby Peter Williams Pride Of Dubai Gr.1 New Zealand 2000 Guineas Listed Uncle Remus Stakes Karaka Million 3YO Classic Cool Change Our Tristabelle Helsinki Volare Showcasing Proisir