A lengthy round trip to Woodville this week successfully served a dual purpose in Janelle Millar’s countdown to a top-flight target with her talented mare Zola Express.
The New Plymouth trainer topped off the Shamexpress six-year-old’s preparation for Saturday’s Gr.1 Rydges Captain Cook Stakes (1600m) at Trentham with a 1000m trial, which she won under a hold.
It also served to give new jockey Lisa Allpress an opportunity to put Zola Express through her paces ahead of the weekend.
“I wanted to give Lisa a feel of her because she’s riding her at Trentham and also the mare needed the trip and an easy 1000 metres under her belt. It’s done her the world of good,” Millar said.
“Woodville is three and three-quarter hours from us so with the travel and the trial it’s been good. Lisa cracked me up because she said she had to rein her back before the line.
“The mare is so competitive and wanted to go harder and Lisa said whoa, come on girl you’ve to race on Saturday.”
Chris Dell has been Zola Express’ regular rider, but he was involved in a nasty trackwork accident at Awapuni earlier this week.
“Unfortunately, he broke his leg after he came off a horse. A young one of Mark Oulaghan’s flipped over on him so he’ll be out for some time,” Millar said.
Zola Express hasn’t raced since she was unplaced in the Gr.3 Balmerino Stakes (2050m) at Pukekohe in early November.
“I gave her a freshen-up since her last start because she pulled up and had a few coughs and stopped eating for a couple of days,” Millar said.
“I think she must have got a virus so I tipped her out for three weeks. She has come back really, really well.”
Zola Express will also be untroubled by the prospect of heavy going at Trentham.
“I do a lot of work on her myself and she goes through a wet track like a good track so it will only slow down some of those faster horses. She will cop it no problem,” Millar said.
Zola Express has won five races, including the Gr.2 Awapuni Gold Cup (2000m) and the Listed Wanganui Cup (2040m) and in the former event accounted for Tiptronic and Vernanme, both race rivals again.
“It’s really weird how it’s played out and around this time last year she started off with a couple of wins and doing really well in Rating 65 races. She’s open class now so she has come on really well for us all,” Millar said.
She is involved in the racing ownership of Zola Express, who is part-owned by co-breeder Windsor Park Stud.
“I leased her and got a group of people involved and this is probably her last season,” Millar said.
“It’s quite a big syndicate and it’s been great for Windsor Park and great for the syndicate. Some of them are newbies so she’s giving them a good ride.”
Safely through the weekend, Millar is planning a trip further afield for Zola Express.
“I’ve got the Zabeel Classic (Gr.1, 2050m) at Pukekohe on Boxing Day lined up for her,” she said.
“She hasn’t got that explosive turn of foot and winds into it so she’s better suited to the longer straights
“I know it will be a hot field, but if she goes well on Saturday she will be right there with the best of them.”