Roger James and Robert Wellwood are set for a quiet Saturday on the home front with no runners in New Zealand, but the Cambridge trainers will have plenty on their plate on the other side of the Tasman.
They are keeping a watchful eye on the evolving COVID-19 situation in Melbourne, where the in-form Hypnos is set to line up in the Cyclotek Handicap (2000m) behind closed doors at Caulfield. Meanwhile, the Gr.3 Lord Mayor’s Cup (1800m) at Eagle Farm gives classy mare Two Illicit an opportunity to bounce back from a deeply disappointing Australian debut earlier this month.
A growing cluster of 30 community cases of COVID-19 in Victoria this week has prompted a seven-day lockdown in the state, while New Zealand and other states of Australia have paused quarantine-free travel out of Victoria.
Hypnos was accompanied by Roger James and Robert Wellwood’s stable foreman Zach l’Anson when he flew to Melbourne after his gallant second placing behind Beauden in the Gr.3 Canterbury Gold Cup (2000m) at Riccarton in late April.
The Reliable Man gelding delighted James and Wellwood with a close third over 2000m at Flemington on May 15, and hopes are high for a similar showing over the same distance on Saturday.
“He looked like the winner at the top of the straight last start, but then he just got on one rein and was tightened a little bit in the latter stages of the race,” Wellwood said.
“It was still a very good effort, and he’s come through that run in outstanding order. We’ve been very happy with him.
“The favourite for Saturday’s race, Yonkers, looks like a handy sort of a horse who might be hard to beat. But Hypnos worked extremely well on Tuesday morning, and we have a feeling that Caulfield might suit him a bit better than Flemington. We’re hoping and expecting that he will run well again.
“Our foreman Zach is over there with the horse at the moment, and obviously they’ve gone back into lockdown in Melbourne today. The horse is booked to fly home next Thursday – hopefully travel might reopen around then for Zach, but otherwise he may need to quarantine when he comes back.”
Further north, Wellwood and James are hoping for significant improvement from Group One performer Two Illicit.
The Jimmy Choux mare made a lacklustre first Australian appearance in the Gr.2 Hollindale Stakes (1800m) on the Gold Coast on May 8, beating only one runner home and finishing 10 lengths behind the super-impressive Zaaki.
“She was very disappointing, but I think there were a few reasons behind that performance,” Wellwood said.
“The track conditions at the Gold Coast weren’t ideal for her, and she’d gone through a lot of travel in the days leading into the race – flying from Auckland to Sydney, and then going by road from Sydney all the way up to the Gold Coast. She’s not the greatest traveller at the best of times.
“But she’s really turned the corner since that race, and she’s been thriving. She’s done everything we could have asked of her. She’s dropping in class this weekend to run in a race where, if she runs up to anything like her best form, we think she should be very competitive.
“If she was to run well, we could consider lining up in the Q22 (Gr. 2, 2200m, June 12). But Zaaki is heading that way too, so we’d probably realistically be running for second at best.”
NZ Racing Desk