The Ben Foote-trained Sakura Girl will take on older mares as the classy filly prepares for a Queensland raid.
The Cambridge horseman entered Sakura Girl in two races at Te Rapa this Saturday, but has elected to contest the Gr.2 Travis Stakes (2000m) at weight-for-age rather than stick to the filly’s own age group in a three-year-old 1600m event.
Foote is hoping Sakura Girl can become the fourth New Zealand-trained three-year-old filly to take out a Group One contest in Australia this year, following in the footsteps of Legarto, Prowess, and Pennyweka, with the Gr.1 Queensland Oaks (2200m) on June 3 her aim.
He said the strong form of the New Zealand three-year-old crop in Australia, plus the fact that Prowess and Sharp ‘N’ Smart have both beaten older horses at weight-for-age in New Zealand, helped convince him the Travis was the right path this weekend.
“I entered her in both partly because I wasn’t sure exactly how her fitness would be, but she recovered very quickly after her trial on Monday so I think she’s forward enough,” Foote said.
“She’s the only three-year-old in it, and she will get in with 53.5kgs at weight-for-age. The form that our three-year-old fillies have shown this season is half the reason we’re going for this race.”
The Travis will be Sakura Girl’s first race since she finished sixth in the Gr.1 New Zealand Oaks (2400m) behind Pennyweka on March 18.
Sakura Girl started favourite for the Oaks after leading all the way to win the Gr.3 Sunline Vase (2100m) at Te Rapa on good ground, but went too strong a pace when trying the same tactics in the Oaks on soft ground and didn’t have enough gas in the tank down the straight.
“That certainly wasn’t the plan,” Foote said. “I was pretty disappointed the way things panned out, but you can’t do much about it now. She’s always been a good doing horse and she’s done well since that race.”
Foote gave Sakura Girl a short break after the New Zealand Oaks, and she reappeared in an 1150m trial at Te Awamutu on Monday. She finished second to the good three-year-old Devastate without being asked for her best by premiership-leading rider Michael McNab, who will ride the filly in the Travis.
“Michael was very happy with the trial and because Kozzi Asano had been booked for another horse in the Travis, I booked Michael,” Foote said.
“The way Michael’s riding at the moment it’s no bad thing to have him aboard.”
Foote said the way Sakura Girl recovers from the Travis will decide whether she is sent across the Tasman early and uses the Gr.2 Roses (2000m) at Doomben on May 20 as a lead-up, or whether she goes straight into the Queensland Oaks without another run.
“More than likely she would run in the Roses, but there’s only one direct flight to Queensland on the 18th or 19th of May, which is obviously too late, so she would have to go to Sydney and then be floated up, possibly as early as next week,” Foote said.
“But we’re not firm on that decision as yet. If we decide to go direct into the Oaks, she’d take the direct flight to Queensland instead.”