IN Racing
Wheeler takes talented quartet to Ellerslie
“He’s bred to be a stayer and has been trained to be a stayer."
Richard Edmunds, LOVERACING.NZ News Desk | March 01, 2024
John Wheeler will line-up a quartet of runners at Ellerslie on Saturday, including Lord Donovan (pictured). Photo: Race Images South

Two breakthrough performers from November’s New Zealand Cup Carnival will line up alongside a pair of promising staying three-year-olds in a talented team for New Plymouth trainer John Wheeler at Ellerslie on Saturday.

The Hall of Fame horseman’s first runner will be Oso Savvy in the $90,000 Vertical Logistics Nathans Memorial (2200m) – a race Wheeler won with accomplished stayer Pentathon back in 2008.

Oso Savvy has yet to scale the heights of that predecessor, but the Savabeel gelding made a big impression in two feature staying appearances in Christchurch in November. He ran second in the Listed Metropolitan Trophy (2600m), beaten by a long neck by Nest Egg, then finished a close fourth in Mahrajaan’s Gr.3 New Zealand Cup (3200m).

After a summer freshen-up, Oso Savvy returned to action with an unplaced finish in the Gr.3 Taranaki Cup (1800m) and a fourth in last weekend’s New Zealand St Leger Trial (2300m).

“This race should bring him along nicely,” Wheeler said. “I’m not sure yet whether he’ll back up into the Auckland Cup (Gr.2, 3200m), or whether we’ll wait for the St Leger (2600m) at Trentham. I’ll see how he goes on Saturday and then make up my mind. But I’m happy with how he’s tracking.”

Lord Donovan completed a rare feat at Riccarton in November, winning on all three days of the New Zealand Cup Carnival.

The five-year-old’s only appearance since then was a 1200m Rating 75 at New Plymouth on February 16, where he carried 59kg and ran second, beaten by a nose by Lilhoovesgotmoves.

Those two horses will clash again in Saturday’s $80,000 Auckland Co-Op Taxis (1400m). Lord Donovan drops from 59kg to 58kg, while Lilhoovesgotmoves rises from 57kg to 58kg.

“Lord Donovan ran a super race first-up,” Wheeler said. “This will be his first start right-handed, but I’m expecting him to run well. We’ve given him plenty of work that way around and he’s handled it fine.

“I don’t really have any plans in mind for him his autumn, we’ll just take things as they come.”

The Gr.3 McKee Family Sunline Vase (2100m) features Black Betty, who produced an impressive finish from third-last to win a 1600m maiden race at Trentham on January 27. She then ran ninth in the Listed Oaks Prelude (1800m) and a last-start fourth against older horses in a 2060m Rating 65 at Wanganui.

“She’s got a bit of a bruise at the moment, so I’m not completely sure at this stage if she’ll run,” Wheeler said. “But she’s a nice filly that will run 2100m strongly. I think she’ll end up being a pretty good staying horse in time.”

Black Betty is by Zed, who is also the sire of Wheeler’s Gr.1 Trackside New Zealand Derby (2400m) runner Tranzed.

The gelding is one of the least experienced three-year-olds in the 17-horse field, with just four starts to date headed by a 2000m maiden win on his home track on February 3.

“He’ll definitely stay the distance,” Wheeler said. “He’s bred to be a stayer and has been trained to be a stayer.

“He deserves his chance to run in the race. I can’t see him winning it or finishing in the top couple, but I’ll be happy if he runs in the first half a dozen. He’s a nice horse in the making.”

All of Wheeler’s Ellerslie quartet will be ridden by Kate Hercock. On Friday afternoon, the TAB offered odds of $16 for Oso Savvy, $5 for Lord Donovan, $26 for Black Betty and $126 for Tranzed.

Lord Donovan John Wheeler Kate Hercock Oso Savvy Gr.3 Sunline Vase black betty Zed Tranzed Gr.1 Auckland Thoroughbred Racing New Zealand Derby