IN Racing
Weather the worry for Noble in New Year’s Day countdown
Lance Noble had a bumper New Year’s Day race meeting 12 months ago and has the firepower for a repeat at Pukekohe on Monday, but weather and track conditions have dented the Cambridge Stud trainer’s confidence.
Richard Edmunds, LOVERACING.NZ News Desk | December 30, 2023
Terra Mitica will contest the Gr.3 Queen Elizabeth II Cup (2400m) at Pukekohe on New Year's Day. Photo: Kenton Wright (Race Images)

Lance Noble had a bumper New Year’s Day race meeting 12 months ago and has the firepower for a repeat at Pukekohe on Monday, but weather and track conditions have dented the Cambridge Stud trainer’s confidence.

Last year’s New Year’s Day card was staged at Te Rapa, where Noble came away with a big-race double courtesy of Polygon in the Gr.2 Royal Stakes (2000m) and Aquacade in the Dunstan Feeds Stayers’ Championship Final (2400m).

Noble has a team of five entered for Pukekohe on Monday, including feature assignments for Habana in the Gr.2 Rich Hill Mile (1600m), About Time in the Gr.2 Sir Patrick Hogan Stakes (2050m) and Terra Mitica in the Gr.3 Queen Elizabeth II Cup (2400m). Those black-type contenders are backed up by impressive recent winners Frostfair and Ominous in undercard races.

It looks like a particularly strong team on paper, but Noble is unsure how his runners will fare on the Pukekohe track, which was rated a Heavy8 on Saturday morning.

“Obviously the weather is the big concern,” he said. “It’s such a shame for everybody that it’s packed up the way it has, and at the moment it doesn’t look like the track is likely to be much better than a Heavy8. It’s probably going to come down to who handles the conditions best.

“Habana gets through rain-affected ground to an extent, but he may not be entirely comfortable in heavy, and I’m not sure how the others will go. But I’m really happy with them all, and if they can handle the conditions, they should run well.”

The Rich Hill Mile was not originally on the agenda for Habana, who was a last-start fifth in the Gr.1 TAB Classic (1600m) at Trentham on December 9. Three of the four horses that beat him had been left standing in the gates in the false start, while Habana was one of the 14 that jumped and ran most of the way down Trentham’s back straight before being pulled up.

“The Trentham race was a bit of a disaster for a lot of horses and I think we can put a line through his performance,” Noble said.

“The Rich Hill Mile wasn’t on our radar. We went down to Wellington hoping that we might run in the top three there, which probably would have meant he’d be weighted out of a race like this. As it turned out, this race has come back into our calculations, although he’s still ended up topweight.

“That makes it a bit tricky, but he’s come through the Wellington trip really well and has such a great record around Pukekohe, so we’re happy to have a go.”

Habana’s six starts at Pukekohe have produced five wins and a placing. Notably, that one defeat was a second placing on a heavy track in the Gr.3 Easter Handicap (1600m) in April.

Noble will attempt to defend Polygon’s Royal Stakes title when About Time lines-up in the 2024 edition of the three-year-old fillies’ feature, which has been renamed in honour of the late, great Sir Patrick Hogan.

About Time recorded a win and two placings from her first three starts, including a third in the Listed Trevor & Corallie Eagle Memorial (1500m). The daughter of American Pharoah is backing up from the Gr.2 Eight Carat Classic (1600m) on Boxing Day, in which she finished sixth behind standout filly Molly Bloom.

“I thought her Eight Carat run was okay,” Noble said. “The very best fillies in this crop are probably just a little bit sharp for her at this stage, and the tempo of the race on Boxing Day was pretty full-on as well, but she wasn’t far away at the finish.

“She’s come through it well. There’s only seven in this field now and it’s just down the road, so we’re happy to take our chance.

“Her pedigree suggests that she’ll get up over a bit of ground, so the step up to 2050m should suit her. It may well be a case of half of the field not really getting through the conditions, so we’ll just have to hope that we’re in the half that do.”

Imported stayer Terra Mitica faces her first black-type test in the Queen Elizabeth II Cup, having made a big impression with a dominant win in a 2100m open handicap at Pukekohe on December 9.

“It was a very strong win that day and I’ve been pleased with her progress since then,” Noble said. “I’m just mindful that she’s a three-win horse jumping straight up into Group Three company. That’s a significant jump to make.

“But that last-start win was a particularly strong performance and we believe she’s a true stayer, so we’re happy to give her this chance. Hopefully she can take the next step.”

Noble also has a good opinion of debut winner Frostfair, who lines-up in the Auckland Co-Op Taxis (1200m), along with the Ellerslie Events (1600m) contender Ominous.

“This is a step up for Frostfair, but I thought her debut win was good,” Noble said. “She’s a big, strong filly. She has a reasonable draw and her race is reasonably early in the day, which is an advantage with the conditions. She’s come through that debut run well.

“Ominous is in the last race of the day but is drawn out a bit, so that might be the place to be by then.”

Lance Noble Habana About Time Terra Mitica Frostfair Ominous