Johno Benner is looking forward to taking on leading juvenile Tokyo Tycoon with his lightly-raced filly Tulsi, even though he’s sure she will be better at three.
Benner, who trains at Otaki with Hollie Wynyard, is racing Tulsi in both New Zealand’s top juvenile races, starting on Saturday with the Gr.1 Sistema Stakes (1200m) at Pukekohe.
Tokyo Tycoon will be a very short-priced favourite after four victories in as many starts, including the Doubletree by Hilton Karaka Million 2YO (1200m) and the Gr.3 Matamata Slipper (1200m).
Tulsi will go into the race having raced just once, for a narrow but stylish victory in a maiden juvenile event at Tauherenikau on Waitangi Day, but Benner rates the filly highly.
“No doubt she’s coming up against arguably the best two-year-old in the country, but we really like her,” Benner said.
“We think she’s going to furnish into a really nice three-year-old, so this is just that next step for us.”
Raced by Gary Harding, Tulsi has plenty of quality in her family, her dam Talimena is a three-quarter sister to Gr.1 Golden Rose (1400m) winner Denman and a half-sister to Gr.1 Golden Slipper (1200m) winner Kiamichi.
“She’s a valuable filly with a beautiful pedigree, so even if she could get a placing this weekend it would help her value,” Benner said.
“But we’re not scared of those horses. There’s no doubt they’re sharp and professional, but we like our filly and I know Michael McNab’s got a high opinion of her. We’re not at all scared to go up and have a go.
“We saw Lickety Split win this last year as an outsider, so we’re not worried. We know she’s got the tools to go there and be very competitive.”
Tulsi trialled twice at Foxton prior to her debut, winning once. Since then she has trialled again, finishing third in a two-year-old 850m catchweight back at Foxton on February 28.
Benner said she was likely to follow the Sistema Trophy with another go at the top level in the Gr.1 Courtesy Ford Manawatu Sires’ Produce Stakes (1400m) at Awapuni on April 1.
“She just trialled for a little breeze-around, to keep the juices flowing and keep her up to the mark,” he said.
“No doubt she will be better over 1400m in the Sires. Being by The Autumn Sun, you can see her getting a nice mile,” he said.
“But 1200m at Pukekohe this weekend is perfect for her now, and then 1400m in three weeks will be ideal for her as well.”
Tulsi is the second promising juvenile to emerge from the Benner-Wynyard stable this season following Dapper, a two-race winner who contested the Karaka Million 2YO in late January.
“We feel he’s not a natural two-year-old, and he did a very good job to get to the Karaka Million,” Benner said.
“He was very colty on the night and he’s since been gelded and is having a good spell. He’s definitely going to be a better three-year-old.”
Tulsi won’t be the only Group One contestant for Benner and Wynyard this month if all goes to plan, with two three-year-olds potentially going for big prizes at Trentham on March 18.
The Gr.2 Lowland Stakes (2100m) fourth placegetter Flamenco is being set for the Gr.1 Al Basti Equiworld Dubai New Zealand Oaks (2400m) and Benner is hopeful of another strong performance.
“She’s pulled up sensationally from the Lowland,” Benner said.
“She might need to find a couple of lengths, but I think she can. I thought she was really good through the line in the Lowland, and the 2400m shouldn’t concern her.”
Also potentially running at Trentham is Colorado Silver, currently a $16 chance for the Gr.1 Gee & Hickton Funeral Directors Levin Classic (1600m).
Colorado Silver has raced just four times, winning her third start at Tauherenikau on Waitangi Day before finishing fourth at Awapuni earlier this month after being slow to begin.
“We’ll need to monitor Colorado Silver but the plan is still to run her,” Benner said.
Benner and Wynyard’s runners will be well spread out this week. In addition to Tulsi, they start Intent in a three-year-old 1200m event at Trentham on Saturday, while a day prior at Otaki they have Pride of Aspen in a Rating 75 1600m contest, Ribbons in a Rating 65 2200m event, and Pitkin County in a 1200m maiden.
Pride of Aspen steps back in class having contested the Gr.1 El Cheapo Cars WFA Classic (1600m) at her last start and should be better suited in Rating 75 company, while Benner also expects Ribbons and Pitkin County to run well.
“Ribbons has been a little bit unlucky her last two runs, so this is a suitable race for her,” he said.
“Pitkin County is a really nice filly. She’s had one start for an unlucky second so she should also give a nice account of herself.”