A tendon injury has forced the retirement of Gr.1 Livamol Classic (2040m) winner Savy Yong Blonk, diluting the potency of Matamata trainer Jamie Richards' hand for Saturday's Gr.1 Rydges Wellington Captain Cook Stakes (1600m) at Trentham.
Savy Yong Blonk was one of four entries for Richards in the weight-for-age feature on Tuesday but with her breaking down and Mai Tai redirected to Saturday week's Gr.2 Cal Isuzu Stakes (1600m) at Te Rapa, the champion trainer will rely on Brando and Prise De Fer for the Wellington Racing Club showpiece.
Richards was disappointed to see the premature end of the Jim and Bill Gartshore-bred and raced Savabeel six-year-old mare Savy Yong Blonk's racing career.
"Unfortunately she's broken down. She's done a tendon so she's bound for the broodmare paddock," he said.
"She did a wonderful job for us and retires as a Group One winner. I'd like to give a big thank you to the Gartshore boys for entrusting her to us."
Savy Yong Blonk was served by Waikato Stud stallion Super Seth but has failed to get in foal so will be suitable for an early service next September.
Matamata trainer Jamie Richards will chase an elusive Group One win for Brando and Prise De Fer, both gallopers having placed at the top level already.
TAB bookmakers have Prise De Fer as a $6.50 third favourite and Brando a $14 sixth favourite in a Captain Cook market headed by Two Illicit at $3.20 and Aegon at $4.20.
Savabeel six-year-old Prise De Fer has been freshened since his Group One placings in the Windsor Park Plate (1600m) and Livamol Classic (2040m) at Hastings in October, while Brando tackles weight-for-age for the first time, having finished third at Tauranga over 1400m earlier this month.
Craig Grylls rides Brando, while comeback jockey Johnathan Parkes, who enjoyed Karaka Million (1200m) and Gr.1 Manawatu Sires' Produce Stakes (1400m) success on the Richards-trained On The Bubbles last season, rides Prise De Fer.
"Brando is in good shape. He's training well and looks good," Richards said.
"He just got tripped up a bit by the wet track last time and got hampered halfway down the straight. He's had the right preparation to produce his best.
"We decided not to head down to Riccarton and chase the Coupland's Mile (Gr.2, 1600m) with the preference to go to this race and try for a Group One for his CV. Hopefully it all fits together. The horse is in good shape anyway.
"Prise De Fer, we're really happy with him. The mile is probably his pet distance. He had a nice trial on Monday and he'd had an exhibition gallop at Te Rapa since Hastings. Everything seems to be going really well with him as well.
"Unfortunately he's drawn wide again; he just can't seem to get a good barrier, so he'll have to go back and get out of his ground again. Hopefully Parkesy can overcome that on Saturday.
"Johnathan did a good job on him last year and he's an accomplished rider. We're happy to have him on."
Richards has dodged what he thought was a formidable Group One assignment for Mai Tai in favour of tackling a potentially easier Group Two target at Te Rapa seven days later.
"We've just re-focused with her. It's a really good rendition of the Captain Cook and we just thought the Cal Isuzu could be a little weaker up here next week," he said.
"She's only a Listed winner and hasn't had a lot of experience at weight-for-age. We thought the fillies and mares race would be a little bit easier up here for her just an hour away from home rather than the long trip to Trentham. It makes it a lot easier on her."
Richards other runners on Saturday are all at Matamata, with Tauparae, Felicienne, Madame Moet, Outfit, Exaltation, Campionessa and Top Brass set for action on their home track.
"They should all go well. Top Brass just got softened up last start at Awapuni. He got no peace and just overdid it but I think he'll bounce back," Richards said.
Meanwhile, Parkes' agent Bevan Sweeney was excited to see the jockey presented with such a gilt-edged Group One opportunity at just his second meeting riding this season.
Parkes broke his collarbone at Te Rapa in May then struggled with his weight through winter, not helped by COVID restrictions which meant he was unable to access public sauna facilities.
"He's taking it very quietly. His weight is coming down slowly and we're going to keep to that process. He'll be riding around the 59 to 59.5kg mark for the next couple of weeks at least," Sweeney said.
"We're hopeful with Prise De Fer. He's a quality horse."