It’s the moment of reckoning for Mark Hills and Stephen McKee in tomorrow’s $200,000 Haunui Farm Group One WFA Classic at Otaki
Hills will have his first raceday ride on dual Group One winner Veyron in the 1600-metre event, while McKee will be giving the top class international performer Eagle Mountain his first race from his stable and his first run in New Zealand.
It has been widely publicised how Veyron’s trainer Linda Laing and the horse’s owners, Isabel and Alistaire Barker, have kept their promise to Hills and given him the Otaki mount, despite Leith Innes winning the Gr. 1 Waikato Draught Sprint on Veyron earlier this month.
“I’m grateful to them,” said Hills. “It’s certainly good to ride a horse of his calibre. I’ve been riding him in work and he’s ready to explode when he’s walking off the track.
“He’s thrived since his last run. He seems to have bounced through every run he’s had this season.”
Hills will be chasing his fourth Group One success and this time he is on a punters’ pal, compared to two of his previous winners at that level. He won the Thorndon Mile on Macavelli Miss and the Railway Handicap on Jacowils when both were over 100/1. His other Group One success came on Floydeboy in the Easter Handicap.
Laing pulled off a superb training feat when bringing Veyron back from 2000 metres on Boxing Day to win over 1400 metres in the Waikato Draught Sprint. Tomorrow Veyron will step up to 1600 metres, a distance over which he has won three times from six attempts.
Mufhasa was gallant in defeat behind Veyron at Te Rapa after being trapped wide and Veyron won’t have to worry about him tomorrow. Trainer Stephen McKee has opted for a mission in Melbourne for Mufhasa tomorrow, the Futurity Stakes, where he will be chasing a Group One double at Caulfield, the scene of his Toorak Handicap victory in the spring.
“I only put him in at Otaki as a safeguard,” said McKee of his stable star. “It could end up quite damp down there and the odds are he’d end up at home in his box. It’s better all round to go to Melbourne.”
Despite Mufhasa’s absence, McKee will have a strong interest in the Otaki feature with Eagle Mountain reappearing on raceday for the first time for two years.
Eagle Mountain, raced by his breeder Sheikh Mohammed bin Khalifa Al Maktoum, was retired after finishing second at Meyden in Dubai and he made his way to New Zealand to stand at Brighthill Farm, Tauwhare. Unfortunately he suffered infertility problems and the decision was made to try him on the racetrack again.
A winner of five races and over $3.8 million in prize money, Eagle Mountain was runner-up in the English Derby, Newmarket Champion Stakes and Breeders’ Cup Turf, with his last win coming in the late 2008 Hong Kong Cup.
McKee gave Eagle Mountain a trial at Ellerslie earlier this month and he was pleased with how he performed. “He was settled back and let sprint a furlong (200m) up the straight,” said McKee.
“Ideally I’d like to have got a race into him rather than go straight into a Group One mile, but he’s worked up pretty well and he’s been a good horse.”
The big question is whether Eagle Mountain can get back into the racing mood after serving mares. “We’ll find out on Saturday whether he wants to be a racehorse again,” said McKee.
Eagle Mountain will be ridden by Innes, who goes from being Veyron’s friend to rival.
Guiseppina, winner of the Gr. 1 Telegraph Handicap in late January, promises to be a good chance if she gets track conditions to suit. Punters should be warned that any continuation of the rain that began to fall midweek is likely to see her withdrawn from the race.
The consistent Hold It Harvey gets another crack at Group One honours and warrants respect again. There is no more honest horse in commission than the Canterbury gelding.
Postman’s Daughter is very under-rated, but could now be getting punters to sit up and take notice of her. Lady Kipling looked good winning at Ellerslie last weekend and will be out to add a Group One win to her success in the Gr. 2 Cal Isuzu Stakes at Te Rapa before Christmas.
Vosne Romanee is a multiple Group One winner searching to regain that form, while The Hombre won last time and Sadist chased Veyron home at Ellerslie three starts ago. Jaggard was an upset winner of the Gr. 3 White Robe Lodge Handicap.