A patient approach has helped Pam Gerard get Cork to a position where she is a force in stakes company.
The improving five-year-old mare will have her second go at securing a black type victory when she contests the Gr.3 Boehringer Ingelheim Metric Mile (1550m) at Awapuni on Saturday.
The five-year-old first went after black type three starts back in the Listed Opunake Cup (1400m), where she beat all but Helena Baby.
She’s raced twice since then, finishing down the track at Te Rapa earlier this month but then bounced back six days later to finish second to Deerfield in an open 1600m handicap at Hastings.
“I thought on the corner she was going to go past him, but every time she got near he just kicked again. But it was still a very good run - Deerfield’s won 13 races and he’s a tough horse to beat when he’s got his confidence up,” Gerard said.
“She’s done well since Hastings and I’m really happy with her.”
Gerard, who trains at Matamata in partnership with Mike Moroney, said Cork had required a lot of time to grow into her frame.
“She was quite backward when we got her, and she wasn’t very robust – we needed to give her at least a month after racing before sending her out again in her early years,” Gerard said.
“But she’s matured a lot and she’s now as good as we’re ever going to see her.”
Temyia Taiaroa, who partnered Cork into second place in the Listed Opunake Cup behind Helena Baby on July 3, will be back in the saddle at Awapuni.
Once she’s through the Boehringer Ingelheim Metric Mile, Gerard hopes to step Cork up over a middle distance, possibly in the Listed Staphanos Classic (1950m) at Rotorua on October 16.
“If she was going really well and the tracks stayed wet she could go for the Livamol Classic, but that would be a big ask at weight-for-age,” she said.
“The race at Rotorua should really suit her. She’s crying out for more ground.”
The more likely horse from the Moroney-Gerard team to head for the Gr.1 Livamol Classic (2040m) on October 15 is Harlech, who was runner-up to Savy Yong Blonk in the race last year.
Gerard said Harlech, who resumed with a fifth-place finish at Te Rapa on Sunday, had come back in great style. He is set to run next in the Gr.1 Arrowfield Stud Plate (1600m) at Hastings on October 1 but the continuation of wet tracks was not helping him.
“When we got him last spring he’d had a few starts in Australia in that campaign so he wasn’t as fresh as he might have been. He’d never really had a proper spell until this year,” she said.
“I was really rapt with his run the other day with 62kg on his back and he’s on track for the second day at Hastings, and hopefully the weather clears up.
“If the weather stays wet, the owners are happy to wait until he gets the right track. If we miss these races at Hastings there’s still plenty more Group One races over summer.”
Potentially joining Harlech at Hastings on October 1 is the three-year-old Battle Sound, who is likely to contest the Gr.2 Hawke’s Bay Guineas (1400m) after coming from last to win at 28-1 odds on his debut at Matamata on September 7.
“He was super impressive that day and earned a shot at the Hawke’s Bay Guineas. We’ll make a call from there whether he goes to Riccarton,” Gerard said.
Also potentially heading for stakes company is Metrical, who finished second to the highly-rated Stella Splendida on debut at Taupo on September 16.
Gerard said he was likely to contest a maiden at Te Rapa on September 30, and then possibly the Gr.2 James and Annie Sarten Memorial (1400m) on October 22.
“He was taking ground off Stella Splendida at the finish on debut and looks to have a bit of a future.”
Phelan will also be aboard leading Ben Foote Racing Great Northern Steeplechase (6500m) hope No Tip for trainers Paul Nelson and Corinna McDougal.
He guided the 11-year-old to a last-start success in the Pakuranga Hunt Cup (4800m) at the expense of Magic Wonder, for whom he again has a healthy respect.
“I think the mare will be hard to beat, I reckon she will improve a bit more off that run and the weight (69.5kg) could get to my horse a bit,” Phelan said.
His other jumps ride at Te Rapa is No Tip’s stablemate Suleman in the Fairview Motors Maiden Hurdle (2800m).
The Redwood gelding placed in his only previous outing over the small fences over this course and distance earlier this month and then finished a sound fifth on the flat in premier company at Hastings last Saturday.
“He went really well the other day and I think he should be hard to beat,” Phelan said.
He will be combining his riding and training roles at Te Rapa with flat runners Enchanted Elle and Quiz Kid to represent his Cambridge stable.
Enchanted Elle will shoot for consecutive wins when she steps out in the BGP Battlers’ Cup (2400m) following her last-start effort to win an amateur riders’ event under 68kg on the track earlier this month in the hands of Phelan’s sister Leigh.
“It was a super win and she probably had about 20kg of dead weight on her back so it was quite a tough win from a little mare,” he said.
“She’s well-suited with 55.5kg on Sunday over 2400m, she’ll keep going all day.”
Quiz Kid will make his first appearance since finishing fourth at Hastings in July when he contests the Waikato Stud Winners Circle Mile (1600m).
“We’ve had a lot of problems getting him to the races this winter. He ran a couple of nice placings and then hurt himself when he got cast in his box,” Phelan said.
“Hopefully, we’ve got him right and he had a jump-out last week. A slow track would be perfect for him, but he will probably need a run and going forward we might be able to get him to a decent race before the tracks get too firm.”