IN Racing
Thurlow weaves Whangaehu’s way into Auckland Cup
“It’s been our plan for a while, but it was whether or not he was going to make the field, but it looks like we’ve made it.”
Jess de Lautour, LOVERACING.NZ News Desk | March 04, 2024
Whangaehu will head to Ellerslie on Saturday to contest the Gr.2 Barfoot & Thompson Auckland Cup (3200m). Photo: Peter Rubery (Race Images Palmerston North)

Whangaehu has taken a significantly different route to the Gr.2 Barfoot & Thompson Auckland Cup (3200m) than Bill Thurlow’s last contender, but the Waverley trainer is hopeful he can produce an identical result on Saturday at Ellerslie.

Thurlow prepared his former star mare Glory Days to an emphatic victory in the two-mile feature five years ago, the mare’s ideal lead-in preparation culminating in winning the Gr.2 Avondale Cup (2400m) three weeks prior.

A son of Proisir, Whangaehu returned to New Zealand in late 2023 after a year under Chris Waller’s care across the Tasman, and Thurlow has carefully weaved an unorthodox path to the Cup, albeit only assured of a place in the final field on Monday morning.

The gelding was an impressive winner of the Wairoa Cup (2200m) in mid-February, with his handicap rising to just 77, and in a last-ditch effort to raise his rating, Whangaehu defied his 61kg impost to score in The Wright Cabins (2050m) at Tauherenikau on Sunday.

In the hands of Lisa Allpress, Whangaehu travelled comfortably midfield throughout, and after being briefly held-up at the top of the straight, showed his class to fight off Ruby Rocks to score by three-quarters of a length, the runner-up six kilograms better off.

“I thought his run on Sunday was very good, he carried a lot of weight and he was very diligent. I was very happy,” Thurlow said.

Allpress sported the red-and-white colours of owner-breeders Humphrey and Fiona O’Leary, the couple also dreaming of another Auckland Cup triumph after claiming the 2018 edition with the Allan Sharrock-trained Ladies First.

“When he (Whangaehu) came back from Australia, we spoke with the owners and they were very keen for us to try and get to the Cup, that was their wish, so we set on a path to do that,” Thurlow said.

“It’s been our plan for a while, but it was whether or not he was going to make the field, but it looks like we’ve made it.”

Te Akau’s Prise De Fer will contend with the 57kg topweight, while Whangaehu will enjoy the luxury of the 52kg minimum, and his regular rider in Allpress.

“Lisa will stay with him, he’ll have a significant weight drop which will help, but he’ll need all the help he can get in the Cup,” Thurlow said.

Before heading north, Thurlow’s talented filly No Rain Ever will prepare for her next black-type quest in the Cavallo Farm & Chris Rutten Bloodstock 3YO (1300m) at Otaki on Wednesday.

The daughter of No Nay Never made a bold statement with a barnstorming run into third in the Listed Uncle Remus Stakes (1200m) on February 17, Thurlow now determining whether the Gr.2 Wellington Guineas (1400m) or the Gr.3 Cuddle Stakes (1600m) will deem more suitable.

“She’s come away from her Ellerslie trip very well, it hasn’t bothered her, and I think she’s come on from it. We’re really happy with her,” he said.

“She’ll probably go back a little bit in the running, but I’ll leave that to Craig (Grylls, jockey), he’s riding very well at the moment and knows her well. She certainly won’t lead, but he’ll find a nice spot from that gate (7) in a smaller field.

“All going well on Wednesday, she’ll go to Wellington next Saturday (16 March), but we’re just not sure which race she’ll run in. It could be that she runs in the Cuddle over a mile instead, we’ll make our minds up after the race.”

Stablemate Field Of Gold completes Thurlow’s pair at the Otaki meeting in the Vets On Riverbank Handicap (1600m), apprentice Toni Davies providing three-kilogram weight relief from 62kg.

“I think he may still be a run away, but I’m very happy with him, he’s progressing really well,” Thurlow said.

“He’s just taken a little bit longer to come up than we would’ve liked, but I was happy with his run at Ellerslie, he ran a really good race. Even though he wasn’t right in it, he didn’t give it away and kept trying hard to the line.

“This is a drop in class, we’ve decided to do that just to hopefully get his confidence up. If we can get him back on track, there’s definitely a good race in him going forward.

“It may be a race like the Hawke’s Bay Cup (Listed, 2200m), nothing is set in stone, but that could be a nice race for him further down the track."

Whangaehu Bill Thurlow Barfoot & Thompson Auckland Cup Lisa Allpress No Rain Ever Field Of Gold