By Ray Hickson
So far this preparation every hurdle trainer Bjorn Baker has put in front of unassuming mare Ita she’s soared over but it wasn’t always the case.
At the start of the year Ita won a Muswellbrook maiden and was beaten in a couple of Benchmark 58s but she’s blossomed in the new season and beat subsequent Group 3 winner Head Of State two weeks ago.
As the four-year-old attempts to stretch her winning run to four stepping up in weight and distance in the Buy @ Irish Sales Online Handicap (1800m) at Kensington on Wednesday, Baker said he sees no reason why she can’t take the challenge in her stride again.
“She’s very much an ugly duckling come good,’’ Baker said.
“She’s just thriving and I’d be confident she can improve again. I think 1800m will suit, she’s been doing everything really well and the form couldn’t have worked out better with the horse she beat last time winning the Gloaming.
“She’s kept making the jump and I’d be confident she can do it again.”
Ita, $6 with TAB on Tuesday, followed wins at Bathurst and Wyong with her victory over 1550m at Kensington on September 15.
Baker said there’s been no significant physical change in the mare since she started this campaign but suspects she’s simply been on a learning curve.
“I thought she was always going to mature and need a bit of time but she has really clicked into place,’’ he said.
“She has a good racing pattern too so I think that early racing has helped her switch off and learn to be a racehorse.”
Stablemate New World Tapestry, also accepted for Wyong on Thursday, is yet to show any of his overseas form in two starts for Baker and the trainer is in need of a confidence boost as he comes back a notch in grade.
The gelding was Group 3 placed in France before being imported.
“He hasn’t shown a lot at home but there are signs he is improving,’’ Baker said.
“He’s a work in progress, I think it is there but we’re yet to get it out of him.”
Ladylovestogamble was narrowly beaten at her first start for Baker at Gosford earlier this month, something he says is a good sign considering her best form with former trainer Clare Cunningham is at a mile and beyond.
She only has a modest increase in distance on that first-up second over 1200m in the TAB Handicap (1300m) but Baker said the five-year-old can only improve.
“She’s another horse that’s really thriving at the moment. She’s not unlike Ita in some ways, as she’s got older she’s got better,’’ he said.
Ita wins at Kensington September 15
“She improved a lot last preparation so the writing has been on the wall. The 1300m second-up may be on the short side but in fillies and mares grade it might work out for her.”
Baker is scratching his head over Ocean Emperor’s first-up failure and has the fingers crossed the enigmatic galloper can bounce back in the Vinery Handicap (1250m).
Ocean Emperor started $4.40 and led but weakened to finish fifth behind Tristate at Gosford three weeks ago, the only blemish on his first-up record to date, and was $12 on Tuesday but his yet to be placed when second-up.
“He was if anything a little underdone going into that first race so he will be better for that. When he’s on he’s very good, we’ll have a bit of a think about how we ride him,’’ he said.