Saturday was a day of undoubted highlights for Matamata trainer Mark Walker, with a winning treble that encompassed a trifecta and a first-four, but one that saw him licking a few wounds as well.
Walker began Gr.1 Arrowfield Stud Plate (1600m) day at Matamata with a flurry of wins, producing Romancing The Moon, Wild Night and Challa for wins inside the first four races but feature race flops from Imperatriz in the day's feature and Dynastic in the Gr.2 AHD Hawke's Bay Guineas (1400m) brought him down to earth with a thud.
"It was certainly an up-and-down day," Walker reflected on Sunday.
"There's a few that have got us scratching our heads. Some of those horses that ran on that really heavy track at Hastings just didn't bring their usual form."
One of those was Arrowfield Stud Plate favourite Imperatriz, who was never in contention and finished eighth, more than eight lengths from impressive winner La Crique.
"That hard run at Hastings on the first day might have just taken too much out of her and I'm starting to question her as a four-year-old now whether she's a pure sprinter," Walker said.
"We're going to spell her now and probably aim for the Railway and Telegraph."
The Gr.1 Sistema Railway (1200m) at Te Rapa on New Year's Day is a race Te Akau Racing has won with Avantage and Entriviere in the past two renewals and an important leadup to the Gr.1 JR & N Berkett Telegraph (1200m) at Trentham on January 14.
Walker was thrilled with Prise De Fer's effort for third in the Arrowfield Stud Plate and confirmed he would back-up in Saturday's Gr.1 Livamol Classic (2040m) with stable jockey Opie Bosson to ride.
"I'm hoping La Crique doesn't go there because if she doesn't he's right in the mix. He's come through the race really well,” he said.
There were bright spots among Walker's three-year-old crop with Romancing The Moon beating stablemates Elounda, Fay Khan It and She's Outrageous to keep her hopes alive for the Gr.1 Barneswood Farm New Zealand 1000 Guineas (1600m) at Riccarton on November 12.
Walker said she would head to the Gr.3 Soliloquy Stakes (1400m) at Te Rapa on October 22, while fellow Matamata winner Wild Night would tackle the Gr.2 James & Annie Sarten Memorial Stakes (1400m) the same day.
"When you look at the times on the day, she ran quite a bit faster than those other races," Walker said of Romancing The Moon's 1400m time of 1:23.77,” he said.
"We ran her second-up in the Listed race at Wanganui (O'Leary Fillies Stakes, 1200m) so we've always thought a bit of her and she still holds a nomination for the 1000 Guineas.
“She's come through the race well too. She's a guts. She looks at food and puts on weight. That's a good thing with a three-year-old filly, that's for sure."
Walker said Wild Night's mid-term aim was the $1 million Karaka Million 3yo Classic (1600m) at Pukekohe on January 21.
"He's a horse who's definitely on the way up and a horse that will get over a lot more ground too. He's a good prospect,” he said.
However, the disappointments of Walker's three-year-olds included beaten Hawke's Bay Guineas favourite Dynastic and fillies Stella Splendida, who was third as favourite in the Comag 1400 at Matamata, and Sans Doute, fourth in the Egmont Tyres 3yo (1400m) at Hawera.
"Dynastic was well below his best. He was impounded by the vets for a check and he had a bit of a slow recovery," Walker said.
"Whether he fibrillated or something else went on, I don't know, but he was too bad to be true. We'll do some further vet tests and see if we can put our finger on it. He does know he's a colt but he was gone a long way from home so something must pop up somewhere.
"If we don't find anything wrong with him, he'll probably go to the Sarten and we'll make our mind up about Christchurch after that," Walker said, adding that Accidental Tourist had likely come to the end of his preparation after finishing one place further back in eighth in the same race.
On Stella Splendida, Walker said: "I really don't know with her. Whether it was that she was second-up and just lacked a bit of ringcraft, I'm not sure. But she had the run of the race and I was hoping for better. She seems fine this morning too. We'll still go to the Soliloquy and see how we get on."
Walker will now send Gr.3 Gold Trail Stakes (1200m) runner-up Sans Doute for a spell.
He was delighted with Challa's win over stablemates Fashion Shoot and Millefiori in the Colchester Engineering 1200, the Dissident gelding's fifth win from 24 starts and his second in a row after a first-up win at Taupo.
"Our farrier Gareth Allis has worked hard to get his feet right. We struggled to keep his feet in good order last year but we've tried a few things differently and it seems to be working," Walker said.
Riccarton trips remain options for Markus Aurelius and Perfect Scenario, who finished second and fourth in the Listed Matamata Cup, with both still holding nominations for the Gr.2 Coupland's Bakeries Mile (1400m) on November 9, a race Markus Aurelius won last year.
However, Belle En Rouge will miss next Saturday's Gr.1 Livamol Classic (2040m) at Hastings after she finished last of the 14 runners.
"The better track conditions helped Markus Aurelius,” Walker said. “Perfect Scenario is just at an awkward placing in the ratings and difficult to place. Over the Christmas-New Year period, there are races like the Taupo Cup that might suit.
"They'll probably go to the Thompson Handicap (Gr.3, 1600m) now and if they go well enough, they could carry on to Riccarton. I was scratching my head with Belle En Rouge. I thought she'd be hard to beat off her Ruakaka run. I don't know what went on there."
Leaderboard continued his build-up to the Gr.3 Martin Collins New Zealand Cup (3200m) at Riccarton on November 12 with a fighting effort for fifth in the Russell Yvonne Green Memorial (2000m).
"He's just an older horse now so we've got to get the miles into him ahead of the New Zealand Cup. When they sprinted he just kept grinding at that one pace,” Walker said.
“He'll be better next start over 2400m at Te Rapa in two weeks and then he'll run in the 2500m leadup race at Riccarton (Gr.3 Nautical Boat Insurance Metropolitan Trophy on November 5) and that should have him spot on for the New Zealand Cup."