Promising filly Val Di Zoldo will kick-start a big period of feature race participation for Cambridge trainer Tony Pike when she tackles Wednesday's Gr.2 Little Avondale Stud Lowland Stakes (2100m) at Awapuni.
Last-start Taupo winner Val Di Zoldo will showcase her credentials for the Gr.1 Al Basti Equiworld Dubai New Zealand Oaks (2400m) at Trentham on March 18 in the Lowland Stakes, a race Pike expects her to be extremely competitive in.
"She's going great. She's got a lot of confidence out of that last win and her work has been outstanding," Pike said.
"She was impressive at 1800m and I don't think the step up to 2000m is going to do her any harm. She's a nice, relaxed filly and she should run well."
While it took Val Di Zoldo 10 starts to break her maiden status, she has only once finished worse than fourth, a placing she recorded in the Gr.3 Soliloquy Stakes (1400m) at Te Rapa in November, as well as the Gr.2 Eight Carat Classic (1600m) at Pukekohe and Gr.2 Royal Stakes (2000m) at Te Rapa.
"She's been right around some of those better fillies over the shorter trips but I've always thought that the way she races, she'd appreciate the step up in distance," Pike said.
"With a few of the best fillies heading in other directions, she's going to be a good chance on Wednesday and hopefully the Oaks as well."
TAB bookmakers have made War Decree filly Val Di Zoldo an equal third favourite for the Lowland at $5.50 alongside Contagious, with Family Ties at $3.20 and Pennyweka at $5 the market favourites.
Premiership-leading jockey MIchael McNab retains the ride on Val Di Zoldo, who will break from barrier four, a perfect draw for her, according to Pike.
"That's probably ideal for her. She can race on speed if needs be but I'd say she should be able to sit three-back, one-out and that would give Michael options anyway, depending on the tempo of the race,” he said.
"It would be nice for her to win it. She's been top four in stakes races numerous times now so a win on the board at this level would be great for the owners but so long as she's running out the race strongly and filling a placing, then that would show she's ready to be competitive in the Oaks."
Pike could well be two-handed for the Oaks should Cheval D'Or continue her good form when she contests Saturday's Gr.3 McKee Family Sunline Vase (2100m) at Te Rapa, though the Almanzor filly still needs to be late entered for the Classic.
"She was impressive finding the line in a special conditions maiden last start and her work this morning (Tuesday) was outstanding," Pike said.
"She's a filly who is going to love the step up in trip. Although she's still a maiden, she's a genuine chance on Saturday if she can get a good run. If she goes close, then she'll press on to the Oaks.
"She wasn't named at nominations time so if she performs well on Saturday, she'll be late nominated."
Among other key runners for Pike on Saturday is Almanzor gelding Dimaggio, who tackles the Gr.1 Auckland Thoroughbred Racing New Zealand Derby (2400m) after an encouraging last-start fifth in the Gr.2 Avondale Guineas (2100m) at Pukekohe.
"It looks like the favourite (Sharp 'N' Smart) has probably got it in the bag but his last-start was good and he's improved off that," Pike said.
"He's a top-five chance anyway. He was caught three-deep on a slow speed in the Avondale Guineas and Sam (Spratt, jockey) had to go forward and sit outside the leader which is against his racing pattern and then he got left in front turning for home. But he fought on well and he's improved from that again."
Matter Of Honor will push his claims for the Gr.1 Gee & Hickton Funeral Directors Levin Classic (1600m) at Trentham on March 18 when he races in the Listed Vertical Logistics Mufhasa Stakes (1400m) at Te Rapa.
"He trialled up lovely at Avondale. It was a pretty soft trial and he could possibly have benefited from a slightly tougher hitout but he won comfortably," Pike said.
"He's forward enough to run a big race on Saturday but he'll definitely improve with the run."
Pike will also give last-start Wairoa Cup (1900m) winner Rapid Falls her final lead-up to the Gr.2 Barfoot & Thompson Auckland Cup (3200m) when she tackles the Go Racing Nathans Memorial (2200m) at Te Rapa.
"If she runs well again in that, she'll progress to the Auckland Cup a week later,” Pike said.
“She only got up that last bit at New Plymouth but she was still quite comfortable. She's only just hitting peak fitness for the preparation so the timing is good."
Also at Te Rapa, Pike has entered last-start winner Whiskey Neat, while his other runners at Awapuni on Wednesday are Group Two winner Field Of Gold, Churchillian, Dawn Parade, Stimulant and Double O'Seven.
"Off his barrier trial, I'd hope to see Field Of Gold bounce back to his best form," Pike said.