A genuine pace in Friday’s feature event at Awapuni will significantly boost the chances of Zola Express doubling her black-type tally on the course.
The daughter of Shamexpress is in tip-top shape for the Gr.3 Martin Collins Manawatu Breeders’ Stakes (2000m) and trainer Janelle Millar is desperately hoping there is plenty of tempo to suit her mare.
Zola Express is a six-time winner and produced her career-best performance on the Palmerston North course last season to bag top honours in the Gr.2 Awapuni Gold Cup (2000m).
Her most recent outing earlier this month was in her defence of that title and she rounded off strongly to finish sixth in the hands of Irish jockey Joe Doyle.
“It’s been hard for her because there hasn’t been much pace on in her races and she needs that to get home over the top of them,” Millar said.
“In her last start, I thought it was quite a strong field and she was coming home as well as most of them and they pulled the pace out of that race, which didn’t help her cause.
“Joe was pretty happy with her, but he’s gone back home so Craig Grylls will be on her so that’s a good changeover.”
Millar said Zola Express has given every indication at home that she can be a major player under the right circumstances.
“She runs on all types of tracks, but she’s never been beaten on a heavy track so I’m praying for rain,” Millar said.
“At her last start there was a bit, but it wasn’t really enough for her.
“She feels better than she ever did last year and she looks amazing, she’s got condition on and it just comes down to her needing a good pacemaker.”
Zola Express was bred by Windsor Park Stud and the Alchemy Family Trust and is raced on lease, which is nearing an end, by a large syndicate that includes Millar.
“This is her last season so it would be really nice if we can pick up something else with her before she retires,” she said.
“She’s been pulling up really well after her races and she’s a lot stronger. All going well after Friday, she could go back to Te Rapa.”
The race in question on April 29 is the Gr.2 Travis Stakes (2000m), in which Zola Express finished fifth in 12 months ago.
“The track was really firm that day and if she gets the right conditions she could go there,” Millar said.
“She’s been a very straight-forward mare, although this year we have put the blinkers on her because she wasn’t finishing off like we knew she could.
“She won her first start in them over a mile at Otaki and there were some really nice horses like Kelly Coe in that and she went passed them like they were standing still.”
Millar will also start Dream Machine in the Rating 75 event over 1200m and Testify Me in the Rating 65 over 1600m.
Another Windsor Park-bred, Dream Machine has won three of her 13 outings and the daughter of Falkirk was a fourth at Wanganui last Thursday.
Atlante gelding Testify Me has been successful once from six appearances and finished fifth at Awapuni most recently.
“I’ll back up Dream Machine, she’s done well, and Testify Me is an up and comer and think he’ll be a really nice horse next year,” Millar said.