The ever-reliable Vernanme has gone close to a Group One prize on multiple occasions this preparation and will chase a degree of compensation this weekend in a race that ideally fits his profile.
There’s been honour in defeat at the highest level for the dependable six-year-old, who drops back a peg on Saturday when he takes aim at the Gr.2 City of Palmerston North Gold Cup (2000m), in which stablemate Masetto will also take his place.
Trainer Stephen Marsh will be well-represented in the main events on the card with Andalus to contest the Gr.1 Courtesy Ford Manawatu Sires’ Produce Stakes (1400m) while Miss Cartier and Raposa Rapida will go head-to-head in the Listed Bramco Granite & Marble Flying Stakes (1400m).
Vernanme heads south in outstanding touch having posted consecutive Group One runner-up finishes in the Zabeel Classic (2000m), Herbie Dyke Stakes (2000m) and the New Zealand Stakes (2000m).
“He’s been a marvel and really deserves a Group One win, but he comes into this Group Two well-suited by the set weights and penalties. He is going terrific,” Marsh said.
It may have been a while coming for Vernanme, but the wait is being well-rewarded by the O’Reilly gelding.
“As a three-year-old we thought he was our New Zealand Derby (Gr.1, 2400m) horse and the most promising horse in the stable, but he has taken a bit longer and was quite an immature sort,” Marsh said.
“He really has taken until now to come into his own and hold a form line.”
Marsh has also learned to not go to the well too often with the brother to dual Group One winner Shamrocker, whose half-sister Rock Diva won the Gr.1 Auckland Cup (3200m).
“He hasn’t had a lot of racing and we spare him a bit. He doesn’t back-up and likes his races well- spaced,” he said.
“That really is the key to him and he has a few days in the paddock after every run. That’s why he is holding his form so well now.”
Sam Weatherley will continue his association with Vernanme while Michael McNab will partner Masetto, who was third in the Gr.1 Tarzino Trophy (1400m) in the spring, and will back-up after finishing fourth in Saturday’s Gr.2 Japan Trophy (1600m) at Tauranga.
“I was really happy with his run and he is another one who gets in well under the set weights and penalties and up to 2000 metres is ideal for him,” Marsh said.
Andalus has been in the frame in all three of his runs, including placings in the Gr.2 Wakefield Challenge Stakes (1100m) and the Gr.3 Matamata Slipper (1200m).
“McNab will be in the saddle and the key is getting up to 1400 metres. He will love that and is going really well,” Marsh said.
“He’s a bigger, rangier two-year-old and has a brilliant temperament and that will take him a long way, certainly what he’s doing now is an absolute bonus.”
Promising El Roca mare Miss Cartier has won three of her six starts to earn a crack at black type.
“Weatherley will ride her and we’ll have a throw at the stumps and she will have a spell after that. Raposa Rapida would have found the track too testing at Tauranga so we scratched him. Craig Grylls will ride him,” Marsh said.
A brother to the Gr.1 Railway Stakes (1200m) winner Volpe Veloce, Raposa Rapida won the Listed Legacy Lodge Sprint (1200m) in the spring and was most recently fourth at Ellerslie.
Meanwhile, a bold showing at Awapuni on Friday week could book Hoard The Bourbon’s passage to the Brisbane winter carnival.
“He’s our main hope and could potentially head over there for a race like the Queensland Guineas (Gr.2, 1600m),” Marsh said.
The Iffraaj colt was spelled after finishing fifth in his third outing in the Gr.2 Hawke’s Bay Guineas (1400m) in the spring and returned at Matamata earlier this month with an impressive maiden victory.