Roger James is hoping for a big day for his mares Two Illicit and Cheaperthandivorce as they seek more black-type success at Te Rapa on Saturday.
The mares, both raced by Brent and Cherry Taylor of Trelawney Stud, both gained Group Three victories at their last starts and may both start favourite in their respective races.
Two Illicit is after her third success at Group Two level in the Dunstan Feeds Auckland Thoroughbred Breeders’ Stakes (1400m). One of those came at Te Rapa in the 2020 Waikato Guineas (2000m), where she scored a 7-1/2 length victory over one of her potential rivals this Saturday, Travelling Light.
James, who trains Two Illicit at Cambridge in partnership with Robert Wellwood, said Two Illicit had trained well since an impressive fresh-up victory in the Gr.3 Spring Sprint (1400m) at Hastings on October 16.
“We’ve tried to keep her fresh – 1400m is on the short side for her – but I’m pretty certain we’ve got her where we want her,” James said.
If all goes well, James said Two Illicit would seek a first top-level victory in the Gr.1 Rydges Wellington Captain Cook Stakes (1600m) at Trentham on December 4 and then head to the Gr.1 Cambridge Stud Zabeel Classic (2000m) at Ellerslie on Boxing Day.
Cheaperthandivorce was not far off the best three-year-old fillies last season, with her notable efforts including a fourth-place finish in the Gr.1 New Zealand Oaks (2400m), but she has taken her talents to a new level this season.
After a fresh victory over 1600m in Rating 74 company at Hastings on October 2, she was hugely impressive in the Gr.3 Thompson Handicap (1600m), easily beating Justaskme – albeit while getting a 7kg pull in the weights from the subsequent Gr.2 Tauranga Stakes (1600m) winner.
The Thompson Handicap effort suggested she was looking for a longer trip and she gets that in Saturday’s Gr.3 Franklin Auctions Counties Cup (2100m).
“She doesn’t take a lot of work but her work has been very good and she’s absolutely looking for more ground,” James said.
“She’s nicely weighted in the handicaps so we are going to look at the cups races with her.”
Safely through this race, Cheaperthandivorce is likely to take in races such as the Gr.3 SkyCity Hamilton Waikato Cup (2400m) back at Te Rapa on December 11 and the Gr.3 SkyCity City of Auckland Cup (2400m) at Ellerslie on New Year’s Day.
James said her efforts in those races would determine whether she is tried over 3200m this season.
Two Illicit is unlikely to be the only runner for James in the Zabeel Classic as he is also aiming last year’s winner Concert Hall at a repeat victory.
Concert Hall has started twice this season, finishing second in the Gr.3 Balmerino Stakes (2000m) at her last start on November 2. She is likely to contest the Gr.2 Cal Isuzu Stakes (1600m) as her lead-up to the Zabeel Classic.
James is likely to have one other runner on Saturday. He has nominated Deep Beauty in both the Rating 74 1400m race and the Rating 65 1600m contest, though she may be more likely to contest the latter as he is 19th in order of entry for the Rating 74 event.
“He’s run second in his two runs this preparation, narrowly beaten in his last start at Hastings, so he’s a form runner as well.”
James is certainly hoping for a better day than he had this weekend 10 years ago. It is the anniversary of the 2011 Gr.1 Railway Stakes (1600m) at Ascot in West Australia, where his good colt He’s Remarkable was relegated from his on-the-track victory in the inquiry room.
He’s Remarkable won the 1600m Perth feature but was relegated to second, behind local galloper Luckygray, in a ruling which remains to this day one of the more controversial decisions.
Perth stewards deemed the ground that Luckygray lost in an incident 600m from home was greater than the long neck margin at the end of the race and promoted the local to first.
James and the horse’s connections attempted to overturn the decision at the West Australian Racing Penalties Appeal Tribunal but they were denied leave to appeal the decision.
“It was in my mind an injustice at the time, but you can’t change it by worrying about it and you’ve just got to go forward,” he said.
When asked if he thought the stewarding in Perth had improved in the ensuing decade, James replied: “I haven’t been back to West Australia to find out, and I’m probably not going to rush back either.”
– NZ Racing Desk