Tony Pike’s two big hopes for New Zealand’s premier three-year-old classic will clash for the second time in the Gr.2 AJC Avondale Guineas (2100m) at Ellerslie on Saturday.
Tutukaka ($6) and Field Of Gold ($8) should be hard to topple in the final major lead-up to the Gr.1 New Zealand Derby (2400m) on March 5, where they sit as second and third favourite, respectively, behind top filly The Perfect Pink.
The pair clashed once before, in the Gr.2 Sky City Auckland Guineas (1600m). That day Field Of Gold finished a close second to Dark Destroyer, while Tutukaka was eighth, unsuited by a slow tempo in what was his first run since finishing sixth in the Gr.1 VRC Derby (2500m) in October.
Tutukaka subsequently finished a strong second to Pin Me Up in the Karaka Million 3YO Classic (1600m), while Field Of Gold lead his rivals a merry dance when winning the Gr.2 Waikato Guineas (2000m) at Te Rapa earlier this month.
“I’m really pleased with them both,” Pike said.
“Field Of Gold’s definitely heading the right way. He’s eaten up since the Waikato Guineas, he’s holding his weight well, and I couldn’t fault him. He’s come back a stronger horse this preparation.
“Tutukaka’s run in the Karaka Mile was super second-up and he should be peaking third up. He’ll enjoy the 2100m and it should be a nice race for him before the Derby.”
Both horses are extremely well-related, with Tutukaka being a half-brother to 14-time Group One winner Melody Belle and Field Of Gold being a half-brother to Pike’s 2020 New Zealand Derby winner Sherwood Forest.
Tutukaka has already proven his staying credentials, winning the Listed Geelong Classic (2200m) and finishing sixth in the VRC Derby, and Pike is also confident Field Of Gold will stay 2400m.
“Field Of Gold is probably a bit more brilliant than Sherwood Forest but the way he ran out the Waikato Guineas and how strong he was past the post, I don’t think there’s any worries of him running the trip.”
Meanwhile, Sherwood Forest had been getting fitter through summer and looked like a potential prospect for staying features after finishing fifth in the Gr.3 Trentham Stakes (2100m) on January 15, but he has since incurred a minor injury and is unlikely to race again until spring.
However, Pike does have a contender for the Gr.2 Barfoot & Thompson Auckland Cup (3200m) in Rapid Falls, who won the Karaka Cup (2200m) last start.
Rapid Falls, who earlier finished second in the Dunstan Feeds Stayers Championship Final (2400m) on New Year’s Day, could start in the Gr.2 Wallen Concreting Avondale Cup (2400m) on Saturday but Pike may also wait a day for the Wairoa Cup (2100m) at Hastings.
“We are trying to get her into the Auckland Cup on the minimum, and we’ll decide on Tuesday morning after she works whether she runs at Ellerslie or Hawke’s Bay,” Pike said.
“She’s just starting to mature now and though the race was run to suit, she was pretty dominant in the Karaka Cup. She’s a mare that’s going to develop, whether it’s this season or next season, into a really nice cups mare.”
Pike is likely to have one other runner at Ellerslie in the form of Not Guilty, who will contest the three-year-old 1200m race.
Not Guilty has raced just twice, winning on debut over 1100m at Taupo in December before finishing second to black type performer I Wish I Win over 1200m at Trentham last month.
“She’s a really progressive three-year-old filly and she should be hard to beat on Saturday.”
While Pike has a nice team of three-year-olds, the racing career of high-class galloper Pareanui Bay is very much in jeopardy, with the Gr.2 Sarten Memorial (1400m) winner suffering a career-threatening injury.
“He was out spelling and it looked like he was just playing in the paddock and had a bit of a flip, unfortunately,” Pike said.
“It doesn’t look very good from a racing point of view. We’ll know a lot more in the next month or two, but at this stage it unfortunately doesn’t look very good.”
In other stable news, another attempt is likely to be made to get the leading 2019-20 three-year-old Catalyst back racing. After a number of niggling injuries he was getting ready for the 2021 Hastings spring carnival when he caught a virus, and then he had a couple of fetlock chips that needed removing.
“We’ll possibly look to get him back over spring. Obviously he’s had all sorts of issues but hopefully we’ve got those sorted out,” Pike said.