IN Racing
Riccarton features in Walker’s sights
Firmer footing could be the key to Markus Aurelius winning his second successive Coupland's Bakeries Mile at Riccarton on Wednesday.
NZ Racing Desk | November 08, 2022
Photo: Race Images South

Firmer footing could be the key to Markus Aurelius winning his second successive Coupland's Bakeries Mile at Riccarton on Wednesday, according to Matamata trainer Mark Walker.

The gelding won last year's Gr.2 Coupland's Bakeries Mile (1600m) for trainer Jamie Richards and jockey Opie Bosson and will shoot for a repeat in this year's downgraded Group Three feature for Walker and new rider Michael McNab.

A son of Ghibillines, Marcus Aurelius's early spring form was well below his best but second placings in the Listed Matamata Cup (1600m) and Gr.3 Thompson Handicap (1600m), on a good 4 track at Trentham, has raised hopes of a repeat triumph.

"He's just found his form again because the tracks are firm. He's just needed better ground," Walker said.

"It was a heck of a good run at Trentham. The winner (He’s A Doozy) carried less weight and got a freakish run through. He had every chance last time but the other one just got that run through them and we are in better at the weights this time.

"He wasn't firing on those wet tracks at the start of his preparation but we had to run on them to get him fit."

A winner of seven of his 24 starts, Markus Aurelius has won three of his eight starts at Riccarton and placed in another three, helping elevate him to the second line of Coupland's Mile betting with TAB bookmakers at $6.

On the top line are his Thompson Handicap conqueror He's A Doozy ($5.50), who he meets 2kg better at the weights, while stablemate Perfect Scenario, who Walker produced for a 1 3/4 length win in the Coupland's Mile Prelude (1400m) at Riccarton last month, is also a $6 prospect.

Visiting Australian hoop Joshua Parr takes the ride on Iffraaj five-year-old gelding Perfect Scenario, a winner of five of his 21 starts.

"He's come through that last win really well. I watched him work at Riccarton on Saturday morning and he worked nicely. He's got a reasonable draw (barrier five) so he should get a nice run and be an eachway chance as well.

"In those big fields, it just comes down to a bit of luck in running but both of ours are very well."

Walker will restrict his involvement in Wednesday's racing to the stakes races, with Fashion Shoot, Zouluminous and Irish Red tackling the Gr.3 Valachi Downs Canterbury Breeders’ Stakes (1400m) and two-year-olds Rhetorical, Sky On Fire and Rubicon Crossing contesting the Listed Riccarton Park Function Centre Welcome Stakes (1000m).

"If it was a handicap, our three would be a lot better off in the fillies and mares race (Canterbury Breeders’ Stakes) but there's a couple of horses in there that are rated quite high that get in on similar weights to ours," Walker said.

"I just wish Fashion Shoot in particular had drawn a better barrier (than barrier 16) because she's been a bit unlucky. They all deserve their chance in that race. Irish Red is a bit of a hit and hope but with Fashion Shoot and Zouluminous, their form certainly warrants them running."

Fashion Shoot, at $6, is the tightest-assessed of the Walker trio ahead of Zouluminous at $12 and Irish Red at $26 in a market headed by Providenceprovides at $3.30.

Bookies have Rhetorical as a $2.80 joint-favourite for the Welcome Stakes with Sky On Fire, while Rubicon's Crossing is rated a $5 prospect.

"It's just been a matter of keeping them ticking over because they're well and they know the chute (the starting section for 1000m races at Riccarton),” Walker said. “That's the key, that they've all been down the chute before.

"Last time Rhetorical had the experience of racing down the chute before and had the wood on our other two. There wasn't a lot between them and now Sky On Fire and Rubicon's Crossing have had that experience.

"Rhetorical is tough and that really helps. Sky On Fire is a really nice filly and she's got real scope to go on with it. But luck will come into this too. You do something wrong over 1000m and it's game over.

"There's not a lot between them and it all comes down to whoever gets the best run."

Walker reported that his New Zealand 2000 Guineas unplaced runners Cognito and Dynastic had come through the race well and would now return to Matamata, with decisions on their summer targets not yet made.

He will aim for better results with One Kiss and Romancing The Moon in Saturday's Gr.1 Barneswood Farm New Zealand 1000 Guineas (1600m), with both impressing in an exhibition gallop between races at Riccarton last weekend.

"I was really happy with them. One Kiss sat off Romancing The Moon, who was just there to have a look around, and they both went really nicely."

Markus Aurelius Coupland's Bakeries Mile Jamie Richards Opie Bosson Ghibillines He’s a Doozy Perfect Scenario Joshua Parr Fashion Shoot Zouluminous Irish Red Rhetorical Sky On Fire Rubicon Crossing Providenceprovides Cognito Dynastic One Kiss Romancing The Moon