A winter trip to Queensland could be on the cards for Cambridge sprinter Is That So if he measures up to some of the best sprinters in the land at Trentham on Saturday.
Less than 14 months after his first start and eight months after his first victory, Is That So will start in the Gr.1 JR & N Berkett Telegraph (1200m), taking on a field that will include Levante, Coventina Bay, and Babylon Berlin.
Trainer Clinton Isdale said he knew it was a big challenge but one that was worth taking.
“We’re under no illusions, there’s a couple of good horses in there, but we feel he’s earned the right to have a crack at it,” Isdale said.
“With Babylon Berlin there, the one thing about it is that it’s going to be a truly-run race, and he’s a horse that appreciates another horse in front of him.
“Saturday will tell us whether we keep him here and kick along next season, or we have a crack at Brisbane. If he runs well enough to warrant going over there, we’re not scared to go over there.”
Though he’s a six-year-old, Is That So didn’t have his first run until December 2021, where he was well beaten in a Matamata maiden. He didn’t return to the track until June last year, but he then won three consecutive races on the Cambridge Synthetic track and then graduated to grass tracks with victory at Trentham in October.
He then disappointed in the Gr.3 Counties Bowl (1100m) in November before finishing second to Shamus at Trentham over 1100m last Saturday in the hands of Michael McNab after getting a little lost at the junction to the main track.
“The track at Trentham was probably the softest it could be for him, but he just got it all wrong,” Isdale said.
“Michael said it took him a while to get his grip and his bearings, but once balanced up and he got his foot into the ground and lengthened, he attacked the line really well.”
“It was quite unbelievable because the first time he raced down there he did everything absolutely right and put them away quite effortlessly, so to see him do a few things wrong was quite surprising.”
McNab won’t be aboard this week but Isdale has a more than capable replacement – Opie Bosson.
“Opie’s ridden him before and won on him and said he really likes the horse, so that probably helps,” Isdale said. “I’m really looking forward to it.”
The Telegraph will be the first of three major races Isdale hopes to have a go at in January, as he also looks to start Orgullo in the DoubleTree By Hilton Karaka Million 2YO (1200m) on January 21 and then possibly Novak in the Gr.3 NZ Campus for Innovation & Sport Wellington Cup (3200m) on January 28.
Orgullo is currently 12th in the conditional order of entry for the Karaka Million after three starts. Isdale thinks that’s probably enough for her to make the Karaka Million field and so she probably won’t start at Tauranga on Friday, where she has been nominated.
She finished fourth at her first two starts, the Listed Barfoot & Thompson Challenge Stakes (1100m) at Pukekohe on November 19 and the Gr.2 Mode Technology Wakefield Challenge Stakes (1100m) at Trentham on December 3, before a below-par eighth and last in the Gr.2 Carlaw Park Eclipse Stakes (1200m) at Te Rapa on New Year’s Day.
“At Te Rapa she was a bit slow away and then she got on heels and nearly fell. We’ve had a look at her after that and she’s fine,” Isdale said.
“I don’t think we’re likely to win the Karaka Million, but anything can happen and she will certainly be competitive.”
Isdale had also harboured thoughts about getting another juvenile into the Karaka Million in the form of Driftin, but she has been put aside after finishing fourth in her debut at Pukekohe on Sunday.
“She’s probably the better horse of the two, but she was so unlucky on Sunday and didn’t get the best run in the straight,” Isdale said.
“We hope we can come back in autumn and win a maiden and then head to Brisbane for some of the nicer two-year-old races.”
Novak scored a nice victory in a 2200m Dunstan Stayers Qualifier at Pukekohe on Boxing Day before finishing sixth in a Rating 75 event over the same distance at Trentham on Saturday.
“He hit the front way too soon on Saturday. He’s a horse that will never run away from other horses, his run needs to be timed right and he needs to be winning right on the line, like it was on Boxing Day,” Isdale said.
“The plan is to run him at Te Rapa next Wednesday in a Rating 65, and hopefully he wins and picks up a few points and then sneaks into the bottom of the Wellington Cup.”
If all goes well, Novak could also join the pilgrimage to Brisbane.
Isdale’s only other runner at Trentham this week will be Ciambella, who is nominated for a Rating 75 2200m event.
“She came through her Taupo win really well and she should get in with a nice light weight at Trentham,” he said.