Despite a bold return to racing by Mustang Valley at Te Rapa last month, trainer Andrew Forsman has resisted the temptation to raise the bar any earlier than he needs to.
The high-class daughter of Vanbrugh will line up in Saturday’s Seaton Park Open (1400m) at New Plymouth, which Forsman will use as a stepping stone towards the Gr.1 Arrowfield Stud Plate (1600m) at Hastings on September 30 and the Gr.1 Livamol Classic (2040m) at the same venue two weeks later.
The Arrowfield and Livamol marked Mustang Valley’s arrival on the Group One stage last spring, flashing home for second behind La Crique in the Arrowfield before powering clear down the Hastings straight to win the Livamol by five and three-quarter lengths.
Mustang Valley resumed in the Gr.2 Foxbridge Plate (1200m) at Te Rapa on August 26, where she found the line strongly for a close sixth. She crossed the finish line 1.9 lengths behind Dragon Leap and Skew Wiff, who went on to fight out the finish again in last weekend’s Gr.1 Tarzino Trophy (1400m).
Many might have been prompted to swing for the fences in a Group One after such a strong first-up performance, but Forsman decided to stuck to his original plan of a more gradual build-up through the early part of the spring.
“I thought she was great in the Foxbridge,” the Cambridge trainer said. “She was held up at quite a vital time, which proved costly given the way the race was run. But it was an outstanding effort to finish within a couple of lengths of Dragon Leap and Skew Wiff.
“She’s trained on really well since then. We considered the Tarzino, but we just thought that going to a 1400m race second-up against a field as tough as that might not be the right step at this early stage of her campaign.
“We’ve opted for a bit of a softer option at New Plymouth this weekend. She’s also likely to strike a track with a little bit more give in it, so that will suit her nicely as well.
“All going well, this should put her right on track for the Arrowfield and the Livamol in her next couple of starts.”
Mustang Valley has been assigned 61kg in an open handicap field that is headed by Justaskme at 63.5kg. However, Forsman has booked apprentice jockey Triston Moodley to reduce her impost to 57kg.
Mustang Valley is rated a $2.40 favourite for Saturday’s race, and she is also prominent in the TAB’s fixed-odds markets for the Arrowfield and Livamol. She is currently on the fourth line of favouritism for the Arrowfield at $10, while she shares $4.50 favouritism for the Livamol alongside Sharp ’N’ Smart.
Mustang Valley headlines a five-strong team of runners in New Zealand this weekend for Forsman, who also has course specialist Turn The Ace lining up in Sunday’s Craigs Investment Partners Mile (1600m) at Te Rapa. From eight previous visits to the Hamilton track, the Turn Me Loose gelding has recorded five wins.
Meanwhile, Forsman will also be in action on the other side of the Tasman on Saturday, where Aegon lines up in the Gr.1 Makybe Diva Stakes (1600m) at Flemington.
A bold third behind Mr Brightside when he resumed in the Gr.2 PB Lawrence Stakes (1400m) at Caulfield on August 19, Aegon could finish only ninth behind the same rival in the Gr.1 Memsie Stakes (1400m) on September 2.
“His performance in the Memsie Stakes was a little bit disappointing,” Forsman said. “Michael (Dee, jockey) managed to get him into quite a good spot from a wide draw, and he was on the back of the winner, but he didn’t quite finish it off.
“I think it’s often tempo-related for him. He really needs a good, genuinely run race. We saw how good he was first-up in a race that was run at strong speed. It was a lot more muddling in the Memsie, and I’m not sure it’ll be much different on Saturday. All we can do is hope that it’ll be run at a reasonable speed and he’ll get every opportunity.
“The step up to 1600m should suit him. That’s where he gets his best chance to be competitive with these sorts of horses. He’s performed well at Flemington in the past too, so hopefully he’ll show up there on Saturday with his best form.”