IN Racing
Pike runners prepare for Derby challenge
“If he can get a little bit of cover and relax better in the run, I think he’s a genuine top three or four chance."
Jess de Lautour, LOVERACING.NZ News Desk | February 27, 2024
Cambridge trainer Tony Pike. Photo: Trish Dunell

Tony Pike certainly knows how to win a Derby, but the Cambridge trainer is taking a philosophical approach into this year’s edition.

Pike has collected two Gr.1 New Zealand Derby (2400m) titles in recent years with Rangipo (2016) and Sherwood Forest (2020), and he will have two contenders in Saturday’s Trackside-sponsored edition at Ellerslie.

One of his representatives in High Country, a son of Mongolian Khan, was runner-up in the Listed Gingernuts Salver (2100m) preceding fifth and sixth-placed finishes in the Gr.2 Waikato Guineas (2000m) and Gr.2 Avondale Guineas (2100m) respectively.

“He just got a little bit wound up before the Avondale Guineas. Our intention probably wasn’t to lead, but he jumped well and crossed them, then went a little bit too keenly through the mid-stages,” Pike said.

“He fought on well considering the trip he had.”

Kingsclere Stables’ filly Orchestral was a dominant victor in the latter feature, warranting her overwhelming $1.40 favouritism, and Pike is hopeful High Country can continue his consistent form, albeit possibly in the minor placings.

“If he can get a little bit of cover and relax better in the run, I think he’s a genuine top three or four chance. Orchestral looks past the post at this stage, but we’ll have a crack at picking up some prizemoney,” he said.

Pike has confirmed stablemate City Gold Ready will also take his place in the Derby field, aiming to recapture his stronger form prior to the Avondale Guineas.

“He’s just an out-and-out stayer. Any rain would’ve helped him in the Guineas, but he’s been running on in all of the better three-year-old races leading into the Derby,” he said.

“He deserves his chance to pick up some prizemoney as well.”

With a potential Gr.1 Al Basti Equiworld Dubai New Zealand Oaks (2400m) berth in mind, consistent filly Vera Rose will take on one of the key undercard races at Ellerslie, the Gr.3 McKee Family Sunline Vase (2100m).

Vera Rose defeated many of her older counterparts when finishing a game third in the $350,000 Sir Patrick Hogan Karapiro Classic (1600m), putting her hand up for an attempt over middle-distance on Saturday.

“She’s a very progressive three-year-old filly in the making and ran well against the older horses in the Karapiro Classic,” Pike said.

“This is a staying test for her, we’ll make the decision after Saturday as to whether we push onto the Oaks, or whether we just drop back to the mile.

“Per-Anders Graberg will ride her, and if she ends up down there (Trentham), he’ll stick with her in the Oaks.”

Completing Pike’s representatives will be black-type winning sprinter Not Guilty, the mare returning in a fresh state for the Gr.3 Haunui Farm Kings Plate (1200m).

“She’s had a freshen-up since her last preparation, she runs very well in that state and is a good sprinting mare,” Pike said. “If she can draw well, she’ll be a nice each-way chance in that race.”

Tony Pike High Country City Gold Ready Gr.1 Auckland Thoroughbred Racing New Zealand Derby Vera Rose Fiorente Per-Anders Graberg Gr. 1 Al Basti Equiworld Dubai New Zealand Oaks Gr.3 Sunline Vase