Op­u­lent steps up im­pres­sively

Matamata Chronicle - - Health - DENNIS RYAN Rac­ing colum­nist

New train­ing part­ners Stephen Autridge and Jamie Richards sent only two horses north to Satur­day’s Ruakaka race meet­ing but came away with plenty of rea­sons to be keen on the pair’s fu­ture prospects.

Pre­vi­ous start maiden win­ner Op­u­lent made the step up in grade look easy when she strolled to vic­tory, while sta­ble­mate Stella Di Paco, although not a win­ner, did more than enough to make the ex­er­cise worth­while.

The two-year-old filly had been the Autridge-Richards part­ner­ship’s first win­ner when she up­set her more fan­cied ri­vals in the Listed Castle­town Stakes at Wan­ganui on Queen’s Birth­day week­end.

Stella Di Paco was

fresh­ened fol­low­ing that race and was on trial for late win­ter-early spring as­sign­ments when she reap­peared on the week­end with a late clos­ing fourth.

‘‘There were a cou­ple of rea­sons that we de­cided to send her north,’’ Autridge said.

‘‘From the time she won the Castle­town Stakes we’ve had her aimed at the Ry­der Stakes at the end of this sea­son, so she needed to have another run be­fore­hand.

‘‘The other thing was we wanted to see how she would man­age the bet­ter track at Ruakaka. She didn’t win but I was ab­so­lutely rapt with what she did.

‘‘First she showed she doesn’t need heavy ground and the way she hit the line she looks like she’s go­ing to run a bit of a trip. Also she’ll be a lot fit­ter for the run, so it all added up to a good re­sult.

‘‘We can go to Otaki for the Ry­der Stakes with con­fi­dence and also start think­ing about those bet­ter races in the spring with her.’’

The year older Op­u­lent has also pro­vided food for thought af­ter hit­ting her straps with im­pres­sive wins at her last two starts. Late last month she broke through for her maiden win over 1600 me­tres at Ruakaka and re­turned to the Mars­den Point race­track for her next start.

Two fac­tors might have proven chal­leng­ing – the step up in grade and the drop back in dis­tance to 1400 me­tres – but she took both in her stride with a con­sum­mate per­for­mance.

‘‘The way she put four or five lengths on them with­out be­ing put un­der any sort of pres­sure looked pretty good to me,’’ Op­u­lent’s se­nior trainer said.

‘‘ We’ve thought she’s pretty smart and af­ter win­ning two Satur­day races you’d have to think she is.’’

Op­u­lent cost Te Akau Rac­ing prin­ci­pal David El­lis $ 205,000 from the Cam­bridge Stud draft at the 2013 Karaka year­ling sales, a value that re­flects her blood­lines – by Keeper from a star-stud­ded fam­ily that in­cludes cham­pion Aus­tralian stal­lion Red­oute’s Choice.

Her value will be en­hanced should new fur­ther sea­son plans come to fruition.

‘‘She can go back up to Ruakaka on Au­gust 1, then we’ll give her a short break and all go­ing to plan look at the Valachi Downs Stakes at the New Zealand Cup meet­ing in Novem­ber,’’ Autridge said.

Spring plans are also com­ing to­gether for the bulk of the Te Akau team as they steadily come to hand. Among them are the older proven horses Wolfwhis­tle, Sil­verdale and Ekraarstatic, a strong group of ris­ing three and four- year- olds and new sea­son ju­ve­niles go­ing through the rudi­men­tary early work be­fore firmer plans come to­gether.

‘‘A lot of the team – some­thing like 35 – will be go­ing to the Te Teko tri­als, ei­ther the first set in early Au­gust or the sec­ond set later that month,’’ Autridge added.

Spring rac­ing also beck­ons Mata­mata’s other week­end win­ner, Amarula, who fol­lowed the same pat­tern as Op­u­lent with back-to-back Ruakaka wins.

The Peter and Ja­cob McKay­trained two-year-old had scored over 1000 me­tres on June 27 and once again com­bined with sta­ble ap­pren­tice Shaun McKay for another brave win over 1200 me­tres.

Peter and Kim McKay paid $80,000 for Amarula at last year’s Karaka sales and now have a likely prospect for spring three­year-old fea­tures.

The for­mula has been a suc­cess­ful one over the past sev­eral years and there’s more than fa­mil­iar ring to the McKay’s latest bud­ding star.

Amarula’s dam Short­black­mini is a half- sis­ter to the McKay sta­ble’s big win­ner Puc­cini. Other no­ta­bles in the im­me­di­ate fam­ily are Puc­cini’s half-brother, iron­horse Sir Slick, and Amarula’s half-brother, the smart sprinter Lit­tle Won­der.

De Niro al­most made it a McKay sta­ble dou­ble in the sec­ond two- year- old race at Ruakaka, go­ing down nar­rowly in just his sec­ond start.

This O’Reilly colt, whose dam is the 2006 New Zealand Blood­stock Filly of the Year Shikoba, shouldn’t be in maiden grade for much longer.

Photo: TR­ISH DUNELL

Op­u­lent has her ri­vals well cov­ered as Matt Cameron lets her stride clear at Ruakaka last Satur­day.

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