Saturday’s Listed Counties Challenge Stakes (1100m) brings together four of the six winners of two-year-old races in the North Island so far this season, and Cambridge trainer Tony Pike is hoping to see his runaway debut winner Poetic Champion rise to the occasion in the star-studded Pukekohe clash.
Racing in the colours of owner-breeder Jonathan Munz’s GSA Bloodstock, Poetic Champion romped to a spectacular victory by six and a quarter lengths at Hawera in early October to become the first winner for Waikato Stud stallion Super Seth.
Poetic Champion had previously won a Cambridge trial with similar ease in early September, and Pike has since sent him back to the trials for a comfortable half-length victory at Waipa on November 13.
“It was a very good performance on debut,” Pike said. “He was coming into that race with just one three-horse trial on the synthetic under his belt, but he couldn’t really have been any more impressive.
“He had a fortnight off after that race and has built back up nicely. We thought we’d give him a trial right-handed at Waipa to give him a bit of experience that way around. He won his trial well and ran good time that day.
“He’s a lovely two-year-old that we’ve got a lot of time for, and we’re really looking forward to Saturday.”
On Friday the TAB rated Poetic Champion a $2.40 chance for the Counties Challenge Stakes, sharing favouritism with Savaglee, who was a four-length winner at Trentham in his only previous start.
Velocious is the $5 third favourite on the strength of her recent debut win at Te Rapa, while the $7 fourth favourite is Bellatrix Star, who won the season-opening juvenile race at Wanganui before a last-start third placing.
There is a strikingly similar market for the TAB Karaka Millions 2YO (1200m) at Ellerslie in late January, where Savaglee is the $5 favourite, Poetic Champion and Velocious share second favouritism at $7 and Bellatrix Star is at $12.
Poetic Champion headlines a team of five runners at Pukekohe on Saturday for Pike, who also expects Roederer and Slipper Island to bounce back from their last-start failures on unsuitable tracks.
Roederer finished second and first in his first two starts of the season, but then crossed the line a well-beaten eighth on Heavy8 ground at Te Rapa on September 29. He lines up in Saturday’s Ellerslie Events 1600.
“He just didn’t handle that wet ground last start, so we gave him a little freshen-up after that race,” Pike said. “He’s a nice, progressive type of staying horse. The fields are pretty competitive at Pukekohe this weekend, but we’d expect him to run a good race.”
Slipper Island contests the Stella Artois 1500 Championship Qualifier (1400m), having caught the eye with a flying finish into third on the opening day of the Hawke’s Bay Spring Carnival before floundering in deteriorating footing three weeks later.
“We were tossing up whether or not to run him that day, and in the end the amount of rain they had really brought him undone,” Pike said. “He’s another one that we’ve since given a good freshen-up. He’s a very nice horse who I think is definitely up to at least winning a good Rating 75 race during this preparation.”