By Ray Hickson
Star Kiwi galloper Te Akau Shark will step up his preparation for an assault on The Championships with a public trial at Matamata next week.
Trainer Jamie Richards said the popular five-year-old will kick off his autumn campaign at home and will have three starts in Sydney culminating in the Group 1 $4m Longines Queen Elizabeth Stakes (2000m) at Royal Randwick on April 11.
Te Akau Shark will chase his first Group 1 win in the BCD Sprint (1400m) at Te Rapa on February 8 then head to Sydney for the Group 1 $600,000 Chipping Norton Stakes (1600m) on February 29, the Group 1 $1m The Agency George Ryder Stakes (1500m) on March 21 then into the Queen Elizabeth.
“They are all three weeks apart so that will suit him nicely,’’ Richards said.
“We’re a little bit worried about the firm ground in Melbourne for him, we’re hoping there’s a bit of moisture in Sydney which there usually is and that will suit him.’’
Whether it’s the name or his flashy chestnut colour or the fact he’s one of the most exciting horses in Australasia, Te Akau Shark has developed quite a following in his 10 start career to date.
And it wouldn’t be a stretch to say he boasts some of the strongest form lines on the planet.
He just failed to cut down Kolding in the Group 1 Epsom, that horse then beat a crack field of four-year-olds in the Golden Eagle, and then chased home Lys Gracieux who followed her Cox Plate win with a runaway Arima Kinen win in Japan last month.
Importantly, Richards believes the gelding could be in for his best preparation yet.
“He’s a bit more mature and has taken a while to get there but we are happy with the way he is moving at this stage,’’ he said.
“I think he can only get a bit better. There’s no reason why he can’t, he’s come home and spelled well and is building up again now.
“He’s starting to carry a bit more condition and he’s never been a great eater but he seems to be eating pretty well. Hopefully he is going the right way.’’
Te Akau Shark, on the second line of betting at $8 behind Castelvecchio ($6) in TAB's pre-noms Queen Elizabeth market, is one of the ‘big four’ out of Richards’ team and another two could find themselves in Sydney during the carnival.
Melody Belle is committed to a Melbourne campaign but Group 1 Flight Stakes runner-up Probabeel and last year’s Group 2 Arrowfield Sprint placegetter Avantage are possibles for the carnival.
Te Akau Shark runs second in the Epsom Handicap at Randwick
Probabeel won a three-year-old race last weekend at Awapuni and is headed for the Karaka Classic later this month, Richards said she could turn up in the Group 1 Surround Stakes, while Avantage will contest the Telegraph Handicap at Trentham on Saturday week before any plans are made for her.
The four-year-old, who won the Group 3 Birthday Card and ran third to Classique Legend in the Arrowfield in Sydney last autumn, ran a close second on Boxing Day at her first run since the spring and completed an exhibition gallop at Matamata on Tuesday.
“Hopefully she is going good enough to come back over but we have to get her form right,’’ Richards said of Avantage.
“She was disappointing in the spring and hopefully we have her back on track.’’
“We have some lovely horses around us. David (Ellis) is always very strong at the sales, which is a big help because we get nice horses to train. It’s a good position to be in.’’