Local trainer Lisa Latta will have a strong team lining up at Awapuni on Friday, including Group One performer Charms Star, who is back in the stable after a stint with Chris Waller across the Tasman.
The four-year-old mare will face just five rivals in the Gr.3 JAPAC Homes Manawatu Breeders’ Stakes (2000m) and is an $18 quote with the TAB as the daughter of Per Incanto aims to find her winning groove.
Despite winning just one of her 16 starts to date, Charms Star boasts a second placing in last year’s Gr.1 New Zealand Oaks (2400m) won by Amarelinha.
After that performance owner Noel Nicholson opted to transfer Charms Star from Latta to Waller, for whom she finished third in the Gr.2 The Roses (2000m) before finishing runner-up in the Gr.1 Queensland Oaks (2200m) behind Duais, beaten two and a half lengths.
Charms Star returned to her original conditioner’s care after a below-par spring campaign, but she did finish just 2.7 lengths behind Montefilia when seventh in the Gr.1 Metropolitan Handicap (2400m).
While Duais and Montefilia have subsequently proved four-year-old stars and will contest Saturday’s A$4 million Gr.1 Queen Elizabeth Stakes (2000m), Charms Star’s connections would settle for a black-type breakthrough.
“She came back before Christmas and then had a break,” Latta said.
“I was happy enough with her fresh-up run in the Cuddle Stakes (Gr.3, 1600m when eighth).
“They weren’t really making up much ground out wide that day, she kept coming and a mile isn’t really her go.
“She is much better suited up over ground and she has shown me enough in her work.
“The aim is to win a stakes race and she will go to the Travis Stakes (Gr.2, 2000m) at Te Rapa at the end of the month hopefully after this, and Noel has even talked about going back to Australia for the Brisbane Cup (Gr.2, 3200m) but that would only be if she was right back on song.”
Latta will have a trio of runners in the Lawnmaster 1600m Open Handicap, including Wild Moose ($3.20), Sir Nate ($9) and He’s A Doozy ($4.20).
“Wild Moose does everything right and puts himself up on the speed and takes luck out of the equation,” Latta said.
“The track is going to get back into that nice dead range (currently a Soft6) which suits him down to the ground and he has worked well.
“Sir Nate will probably look to back up in the Hawke’s Bay Cup (Listed, 2200m) and this race is on his back doorstep with the fire out of the ground, so it is going to suit him.”
He’s a Doozy has won his past two races in strong fashion on Good 4 footing and despite being yet to claim a win in three starts at Awapuni, there have been mitigating circumstances such as rain affected ground or races devoid of genuine tempo.
“He’s got a good draw tomorrow (4) and there looks nice enough speed in the race so we should be able to get a line on him there,” Latta said.
The Awapuni horsewoman, who sits fourth of the trainers’ premiership with 40 wins to her credit, also has two runners in the Rich Hill Stud Autumn Sprint Series Qualifier over 1100m, including last-start winner Platinum Assault and the resuming Kellys Inspiration.
“Platinum Assault won over 1400m last time, so we are dropping back in distance and just trying something out,” Latta said.
“He went very keenly with the blinkers on for the first-time last start, so we just want him to learn something before we put him out until his next campaign.”
Friday’s race is one of 21 qualifying heats leading into the Rating 74 Benchmark $50,000 Rich Hill Stud Autumn Sprint Final (1200m) to be held at Trentham on May 28.
“A race like that definitely holds good appeal when you get to run for that sort of money for horses in that grade, that’s for sure,” Latta said.
Highly talented but injury-plagued gelding Lincoln Falls is also resuming for Latta in the Higgins Concrete 1200m.
“He’s had a jumpout and a trial. He has been a long time off the scene and might be a touch vulnerable first-up but he did trial well the other day,” Latta said.