The New Zealand Herald
Pitman calls in hotshots
Savvy Coup trainer gets help from one of Sydney racing’s best brains for tilt at Oaks
Kiwi trainer Michael Pitman has called in the big guns to help secure him the richest victory of his career in the ATC Oaks on Saturday. Pitman and his son, Matthew, will saddle up one of the favourites for the A$1 million classic in Savvy Coup, who hasn’t raced since winning the NZ Oaks at Trentham on March 21.
Victory on Saturday would put the filly in the middle of the conversation for NZ Horse of the Year, especially as it would make her the only New Zealand-trained galloper to win two group ones so far this season.
But Pitman isn’t thinking of such lofty goals yet, with even Saturday’s race a dream-like bonus.
“I know it is worth a million dollars, which would make it the richest race I’ve ever won, but it really would be a bonus for us,” says Pitman.
“It would be a big bonus and it would be the highlight of my career but the race we set out to win with this filly was the NZ Oaks and we have accomplished that.
“So this is the logical next target and very much an extra. But now we are here and she is so well I think we have a real show.”
Pitman, who has trained 22 previous winners in Australia, knows he has picked a tough year to seek his first ATC Oaks, with Saturday’s field boasting depth, including three other New Zealand fillies.
“We have picked a tough one and those Aussie fillies are particularly good on top of the ground, whereas any rain would help all four New Zealand horses.
“But in saying that I think we have as much if not more tactical speed than most of these horses.”
How that tactical speed is best used will come down to the magic hands of premiership winner Chris Johnson, for whom Pitman has enlisted help from one of Sydney racing’s best brains.
“Chris comes over Thursday night with Matthew and he will walk the Randwick track with Ron Quinton on Friday,” says Pitman.
Quinton was a sensation as a jockey, winning three AJC Oaks (as the race was known then) and a string of Sydney premierships before becoming a successful trainer.
“We are staying with Ron and he is not only a great horseman but a hell of a bloke.
“So to have him taking Chris for a walk around Randwick to discuss tactics, we couldn’t have a better man for the job.”
From barrier two, Pitman expects Johnson to end up three deep on the fence with Savvy Coup, with the rail out three metres, and set to chase down likely leader Hiyaam and former Kiwi jockey Michael Dee.
“I think Hiyaam is the one to beat but if we get the right breaks we will get our chance.”
Johnson won’t be the only Kiwi horseman in the Oaks getting an insight from a superstars of the saddle, with Ruakaka trainer Chris Gibbs rekindling an old association before Danzdanzdance heading into the classic.
The exciting filly was ridden in trackwork yesterday by comeback Kiwi riding hero James McDonald.
McDonald has been allowed to ride trackwork and at trials for just over a week as he enters the last month of his 18-month disqualification from riding and hones his fitness before his May 16 comeback.
Gibbs got a positive report from McDonald but admits he would like some easing of the track before Saturday when Michael Walker will ride her.
Savvy Coup and Danzdanzdance are joined in the Oaks by New Zealand’s iron filly Contessa Vanessa and She’s A Treasure, who was excellent running on for sixth in her Australian debut last Saturday.