Cambridge trainer Shaune Ritchie has crossed the Tasman for a second tilt at the Jericho Cup (4600m) at Warrnambool on Sunday, four years on from a highly creditable first attempt.
Ritchie saddled Where Are You to finish third at double-figure odds in the 2019 running of the A$300,000 showpiece, which was established in 2018 to commemorate light horse involvement in World War I and is restricted to horses bred in Australia and New Zealand.
Four of the first five winners of the race have been New Zealand-bred, but it has not yet been won by a horse trained in New Zealand. Kevin Myers came the closest with Botti 12 months ago, finishing second behind expat Kiwi trainer John Sargent’s Bastida.
Ritchie and his training partner Colm Murray will attempt to go one better on Sunday when they line up Nassak Diamond in the gruelling staying test.
Bred and raced by The Oaks Stud, Nassak Diamond heads into the race as the winner of three of her 21 career starts. The daughter of Roc De Cambes scored a runaway five-length win in the NZB Airfreight Road to the Jericho (3210m) at New Plymouth in September, which secured her a spot in Sunday’s field.
“She’s been over here for about 10 days now and has handled everything brilliantly,” Ritchie said. “We followed a similar formula when we brought Where Are You across for the race a few years ago – fly them across about 10 days out from the race, then give them a couple of gallops around Warrnambool to familiarise them with the joint.
“She’s settled in beautifully and is looking very good. I don’t know if we’ve ever had her coat as good as it as at the moment.”
Nassak Diamond will be ridden by Campbell Rawiller and is rated a $12 chance.
“Where Are You was probably a 50-to-one chance when she came over for the race, and she produced a terrific performance to run third,” Ritchie said.
“It gave me a bit of confidence that we could potentially aim to bring a better horse over in future years and have a really good crack at winning it.
“I do believe that Nassak Diamond is a stronger stayer and a better racehorse than Where Are You. Having said that, the race is really gaining momentum every year. It’s capturing people’s attention on both sides of the Tasman, and it seems like the field is getting stronger every year as a result of that. It’s becoming a harder race to win, and I have no doubt that in 10 years’ time it will be harder still. But I’m happy with the build-up that we’ve had.
“The race is almost a mile further than anything she’s run in before. As trainers, we often worry about horses taking the step from 1600m to 2000m or from 2000m to 2400m, so it sounds funny that I’m not too worried about her going from 3200m up to 4600m. But a race as long as that is always going to be run at a much slower pace, and one of her best attributes is how well she relaxes during her races.
“The most impressive part of her races is often the last 200m and then through and after the line, so I’m confident she’ll run the race out okay.
“The only thing that I would have liked is a little bit more rain. They’ve had quite lot of it in various places all around us, but it’s just missed Warrnambool. It’s a little bit showery today though, and there’s a very good sole of grass on the track, so she shouldn’t have too much trouble with it.”
Fellow Kiwi-trained runner Prismatic, from the Te Akau Racing stable of Mark Walker, will be ridden by Chris McCarthy and is on the fourth line of favouritism at $7.50. The son of Savabeel was a last-start fifth placegetter in the Gr.3 New Zealand Cup (3200m).
– LOVERACING.NZ News Desk.