Four years after picking up a third placing at big odds in the A$300,000 Jericho Cup (4600m), Cambridge trainer Shaune Ritchie has secured himself a second shot at the unique Warrnambool showpiece.
Nassak Diamond guaranteed herself a place in the Jericho Cup field with a powerhouse performance in Saturday’s NZB Airfreight Road to the Jericho (3210m) at New Plymouth. The race is one of two on the New Zealand calendar that carries a Jericho Cup ballot exemption, and sponsors NZB Airfreight also provide a $5,000 equine airfreight credit to assist with a Jericho Cup campaign.
The Jericho Cup was established in 2018 to commemorate the feats of Australasia’s light horse units during World War I. Restricted to horses bred in either Australia or New Zealand, the increasingly popular staying test has been won by New Zealand-breds in all of its five renewals to date.
Ritchie saddled Where Are You for the second edition of the race in 2019, and she ran a creditable third behind Ablaze and Golden Flag. He believes he is heading back with a stronger chance this time around, and Saturday’s performance by Nassak Diamond backs up that belief.
Ridden by Joe Doyle, Nassak Diamond was caught wide throughout but settled into a smooth rhythm in fifth place.
Right Now and King Khan upped the ante coming down the side of the track, powering clear together and drifting out wide as they fought out a battle of their own rounding the home turn.
Doyle drove Nassak Diamond through the wide opening that they left closer to the inside, and the five-year-old mare put the result beyond any doubt within the space of a few big bounds.
A third placegetter in this race last year behind Quota and Brucie, Nassak Diamond romped away this time around to win by five and three-quarter lengths.
It was the third win of an 18-start career for the Roc De Cambes mare, who races in the colours of owner-breeders The Oaks Stud. Nassak Diamond has banked $70,465 in stakes.
“She was really quite dominant in the end,” said Ritchie, who trains in partnership with Colm Murray. “Joe got caught out on a limb a little bit, but he didn’t panic and was able to keep her momentum going nicely. She certainly proved down the straight that she was the best stayer on the day.
“She’s qualified for the Jericho Cup now. We’ve been there and done that before with Where Are You, who ran third at 50 or 60 to one.
“Nassak Diamond ended up running a lot more than two miles today, and I don’t have any doubt that she can stretch out over the distance of the Jericho in December.
“We’re very keen to get back over there again. It’s actually a fantastic week. They have a parade of light infantry on horseback, and there’s a lot of pageantry and nostalgia.
“The race is certainly getting stronger every year, but Nassak Diamond is a higher-quality horse than Where Are You. Having been there in the past, we’ve got a better idea this time of what to do and what not to do. I’m sure we’ll give it our best shot.”
Ritchie suggested that a 2400m Rating 75 at Pukekohe on November 7 might be Nassak Diamond’s last New Zealand start before heading across the Tasman for the Jericho, which will be run at Warrnambool on December 3.
“We haven’t really made any firm plans around what to do with her between now and the Jericho Cup,” Ritchie said. “She’s pretty fit. She’s been building steadily through this campaign, and we wanted her to peak today in order to qualify for the race.
“We won’t go down to Christchurch for the other qualifier next month, because she struggles on hard tracks. But something like the 2400m race on Melbourne Cup Day might be a nice springboard to Australia for her.
“Once she’s contested the Jericho Cup, I wouldn’t be surprised to see her stay in Australia. The Oaks have some good trainers over there such as Mike Moroney, and she could be quite a nice stayer for some of those longer-distance races they have in Melbourne.”
-Richard Edmunds, loveracing.nz