The New Zealand Herald

Competitio­n hotting up for star

Return of Helena Bay from disappoint­ing spell in Hong Kong set to provide test for emerging Palm Springs

- Michael Guerin

Palm Springs may be the emerging star of trainer John Bell’s team but that competitio­n is about to get a lot tougher. Because the Cambridge horseman is preparing to welcome back one of his all-time favourites and former group one galloper Helena Baby to New Zealand in coming weeks.

Helena Baby hasn’t raced here since finishing just a length behind Melody Belle when third in the group one Tarzino Trophy at Hastings in August 2019, leaving soon after for Hong Kong.

“He just never really seemed to enjoy it up there and didn’t win a race in 10 or 12 starts so he is coming back, he is in quarantine now,” Bell told the Herald.

“We will be thrilled to get him back because he is a lovely horse and still hasn’t had a lot of starts.”

Helena Baby burst on to the scene two years ago and won five of nine starts including the Opunake Cup on this weekend two years ago and while he won’t be ready to race for a while he adds some depth to the New Zealand 1200-1600m ranks, especially in races with the sting out of the track.

Palm Springs is another heading toward open class judging by the three wins in her last five starts as well as an open handicap fourth at Te Rapa last start, the track she returns to tomorrow.

Palm Springs slides back to a rating 74 race, albeit a strong one, and for that reason cops the 59kg topweight but with in-form Erin Leighton to ride. That provides Palm Spring’s with 3kg of weight relief in a race where most of the others at the top of the weights don’t claim.

“She actually come in really well at the weights now,” admits Bell.

“Considerin­g she was in open grade last start and now only has to carry 56kg in a rating 74 is ideal and Erin is riding really well and is very dedicated.

“Apprentice­s like her are really valuable at this time of the year and I am thrilled to have her on.”

Palm Springs, a daughter of the underrated and somewhat resurgent stallion Super Easy, would appreciate any improvemen­t in the Te Rapa track to the slow range, which was how it was rated when she won in a similar field here two starts ago.

“She is a lovely progressiv­e mare and I think this will be her last start before a spell and we will see what the team at Pencarrow want to do with her next season but I can see her being in some nice races.

That reference to Pencarrow, the huge racing operation owned by Sir Peter Vela, reiterates that his colours being carried to victory would be both appropriat­e and emotional as the race is named in the memory of training great Laurie Laxon, who passed away last week.

Laxon and the Vela brothers had an enormously successful associatio­n including stars like Noble Heights and Hong Kong Cup winner Romanee Conti.

“We had some great times with Laurie and some wonderful memories of those horses and his remarkable training feat to get Riverina Charm to win the Air New Zealand Stakes fresh up for three months,” remembered Sir Peter this week.

“The day before he trained Romanee Conti to win the Hong Kong Cup I said to Laurie ‘ you know we are 30-1’ and he came straight back with ‘if you only going to run when you have the favourite you aren’t going to win many races. So get on.”

Bell also has Unacceptab­le in the BGP Battlers Cup and she should run her usual honest race with Masa Hashizume’s 2kg claim again helpful.

The Cambridge horseman sends three horses south to New Plymouth tomorrow and Cleese (R2, No.6) as his best each way chance.

“He is better than he showed last start and I think he will win more races,” he said.

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