Te Akau out to regain Derby Throne at Ellerslie

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  • March 04, 2024
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By Jess de Lautour, LOVERACING.NZ News Desk

Te Akau Racing make their presence felt in a volume of top-flight New Zealand races, with Karaka Millions, Guineas, and weight-for-age crowns in constant flow.

However, the iconic Gr.1 Trackside New Zealand Derby (2400m) is one that has eluded the Matamata giant since cult hero Gingernuts in 2017, and co-trainer Sam Bergerson is hopeful their fortunes can change on Saturday, when Ascend The Throne and What You Wish For contest the Ellerslie feature.

A high-priced son of Savabeel, Ascend The Throne has been a Derby hopeful since producing a comprehensive maiden victory over 2000m in January, consolidated by a hard-fought Gr.2 Waikato Guineas (2000m) success in his next start.

In a market dominated by Derby favourite Orchestral, the gelding posted the second-fastest closing sectionals when finishing fourth in the Gr.2 Avondale Guineas (2100m), warranting his $10 TAB third favouritism for the Derby.

“Opie’s (Bosson, jockey) done a lot of work with the horse the whole way through, and has always thought the further the better with him,” said Bergerson, who trains in partnership with Mark Walker. “Even after trackwork on Tuesday, he said he’s going to love the 2400m, which is massive for Saturday.

“We’re really happy with him, he’s going in as best as we can have him. He’s fit, happy and healthy.

“His sectionals were really good late in the Avondale Guineas, only Orchestral’s were better. She looks extremely hard to beat on paper, but stranger things have happened in horse racing. We think our fellow deserves to be right up there in the market.”

What You Wish For was less than half-a-length from his stablemate in the Waikato Guineas, but Bergerson admitted the stable was left scratching their heads when he finished at the tail in the Avondale Guineas.

“To be honest, his run in the Avondale Guineas was pretty woeful. He got vetted straight after the race, and nothing was amiss, then he had a warrant of fitness when he got home, which was also clear,” he said.

“He galloped between races at Matamata last Saturday and his work was really good, and it was even better on the course proper on Wednesday with Mehzebeen.

“If he could produce a run like the Waikato Guineas, he could give the Derby a really good shake. We just don’t know what to expect.”

The Embellish gelding sits in the middle-market at $51 and will be partnered by Joe Doyle out of barrier five, while Ascend The Throne will jump from gate 10 under Bosson.

“We’ve got two very good jockeys on, so we’ll be leaving it up to Opie and Joe as to where they go from the jump. What You Wish For is drawn well, but he’ll be ridden pretty neutral as that’s where he’s typically best, and then Ascend The Throne, Opie doesn’t need to be told much,” Bergerson said.

Te Akau will be represented with runners in all three remaining black-type events at Ellerslie, with promising Trelawney Stud-owned mare Petrucci contesting a talented line-up in the Gr.3 Haunui Farm Kings Plate (1200m).

“She ran really well in the Concorde on Karaka Millions Night, we gave her a gallop between races at Matamata and her work was very good,” Bergerson said.

“It’s a field light on numbers but very good on quality, so it’s going to be tough to beat the Group One performers, but she’s in good form and hopefully we can sneak some more black-type.”

Multiple Group performers Trobriand and Talisker will contest the Gr.3 Mainstream Plumbing Mufhasa Stakes (1400m), alongside promising filly Certainly, who could be set for Australian targets will a solid performance.

“Certainly is a very nice up-and-coming filly, and still lightly-raced,” Bergerson said. “She was beaten by a very short-priced favourite last time, but they just walked and then sprinted home, and from where she was, she would’ve had to get home in about 32/33 seconds, which was almost impossible on the day.

“We’re happy with her and if she was to run well, there could be some Australian targets later on in the Autumn.

“Trobriand was disappointing in the Waikato Guineas, we’ve kept him very fresh dropping back to the 1400m and put the blinkers on. Hopefully that sharpens him up, if he wasn’t to turn his form around, he would probably find himself a gelding.

“With Talisker, we were scratching our heads a bit after the Karaka Milliosn 3YO, whether he didn’t enjoy the shifty track by the end of the day, we’re not sure.

“We opted to scratch from Otaki last weekend because of the forecast, so he goes into Saturday quite fresh. We’ll probably roll forward from the sticky gate. On his day, with the Crocetti form, he can go a real race.”

The Vertical Logistics Nathans Memorial could act as a final stepping-stone to the Gr.2 Barfoot & Thompson Auckland Cup (3200m) for Mehzebeen.

“She’d probably have to win to have a crack at the Cup,” Bergerson said. “We were quite confident heading into the Avondale Cup and were left wondering a bit, Michael (McNab) gave her a lovely ride and she couldn’t find anything up the straight.

“We couldn’t find anything amiss and her work has been great at home, so she’ll be ridden a bit colder and hopefully she can finish off well.”

Promising staying filly Qali Al Farrasha will take the step-up to black-type level in the Gr.3 McKee Family Sunline Vase, while her full-brother, also a Te Akau Stud home-bred in Nucleozor, will run on debut at Wingatui earlier in the day.

“She (Qali Al Farrasha) won super well at her home track, but this is a massive step-up in class. It looks a pretty even field, so we’ll know a lot more after Saturday,” Bergerson said.

“We’ve taken the blinkers off her as Opie felt she went quite keenly over the mile, and was the same in her trackwork, though worked top-notch with Ascend The Throne.

“It’s quite bizarre to have a two-year-old running over 820m, then the three-year-old full-sister running over 2100m on the same day, so hopefully it will be a nice day for the pedigree.”

Almanzor gelding Nucleozor, alongside stablemate Discretion Rules, will kick-off a quieter meeting at Wingatui for the Riccarton-based contingent in the Dakota Boutique & Lifestyle (820m).

“It’s always extremely hard to get a line on these kinds of fields, but we’re happy with our two, they’ve settled in well in Christchurch.” Bergerson said.

“Discretion Rules’ trial at Tauranga was super, they ran a slick time in his heat and he was beaten by a pretty sharp horse by the looks.

“Nucleozor had a quiet trial before the races at Riccarton last week, he was super and has gone the right way.”

The Wingatui meeting is headlined by the Listed NZB Airfreight Stakes (1400m), where Te Akau will line-up a trio of fillies in Mazzucato, Sense Of Timing and Lady Of Court.

“Mazzucato has a nice draw (2), and she’s travelled down well since a nice run at Wanganui last time. She should get a kind enough run, she tends to put her tail down in the gates but has been much better this time in,” Bergerson said.

“Sense Of Timing went well in the Dunedin Guineas (Listed, 1500m), but just has a very awkward gate (15) and will need a lot of luck. Hunter (Durrant, foreman) thinks she has improved from then, so hopefully she can continue that trajectory.

“Lady Of Court was super in her maiden win, and the second horse won the other day (Rubicon Reigns). We think she can take the step-up to black-type, but with that gate (9), hopefully she can get some cover mid-field and will be a nice each-way chance.” – LOVERACING.NZ News Desk

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