Waikato Cup Day could see Roger James maintain his seasonal strike rate in black-type races.
The highly successful Cambridge trainer has won at least two Group or Listed races in each of the past 11 seasons with the 2011-12 season bringing six black-type wins (including the NZ Derby with Silent Achiever), one more than last term. His personal record is eight in the 2000-01 season.
James has yet to win a stakes race with a third of the season completed, but he has the firepower to put the record straight and is hoping Te Rapa on Saturday week will be the occasion when he will saddle up Tavy, Miss Foxwood, Delago's Secret and The Tidy Express in the features.
James had a slow start to the season under his usual standards, but over the last couple of weeks his team has been firing up with six wins, the most recent with the promising Volts at Ellerslie last Saturday. Previously he had to settle for one win and a host of frustrating seconds.
"I haven't got the strongest team I've had, but they're all running up to their potential," said James.
One of the recent winners for James is Tavy and she was most impressive when following a couple of placings, including a close second, with a four-length win over 1400 metres in Rating 85 company at Avondale last Saturday week.
That performance has earned Tavy a start at Te Rapa in the Listed $50,000 J. Swap Sprint, the same event being considered for stablemate Miss Foxwood, who will also be entered for the day's fillies and mares' feature, the Gr. 2 $100,000 Cal Isuzu Stakes.
"I'm not sure which way to go with Miss Foxwood at this stage, but Tavy will definitely run in the sprint," said James. "She's come through her Avondale race really well and I might throw a late nom in for the Telegraph. I think she's up to it."
The first set of late nominations for the Gr. 1 $250,000 J.R. & N. Berkett Telegraph Handicap at Trentham on January 16 close four days after the Te Rapa meeting so Tavy's effort in the J. Swap Sprint will have a huge bearing on her possible entry.
Tavy has been a model of consistency with three wins and nine placings from 11 starts and has picked up four portions of black-type, the first coming in last year's Listed Trevor Eagle Memorial 3YO at Ellerslie. She was then third in the Gr. 2 Cambridge Stud Eight Carat Classic and fourth in the Listed NZ Bloodstock Insurance Karaka 3YO Mile and, fresh-up, she charged home for second behind stablemate Shees Flawless in the Gr. 3 Inglis Sales Cambridge Breeders Stakes at Te Rapa last April.
Miss Foxwood also has three wins on the board, along with 12 placings, but has yet to win a stakes race, though she has been placed in three Group races and a Listed event.
Her first black-type came at Te Rapa two years ago when third in the Gr. 3 James & Annie Sarten Memorial Stakes, after which she finished fourth in the Gr. 1 NZ Bloodstock 1000 Guineas. Last March she ran third to Vespa in the Listed Fairdale/Goodwood Studs Flying Handicap at Awapuni and, after a fresh-up second this campaign, she was third to Kisses and Recite in the Gr. 3 Rich Hill Stud Taranaki Breeders' Stakes at Hawera.
Miss Foxwood has started once since Hawera and that was at Avondale when uncharacteristically sharing the pace before weakening to ninth in the Gr. 2 Auckland Thoroughbred Breeders Stakes.
Along with Tavy and Miss Foxwood, James' other two big black-type hopes for Te Rapa are also out of the Avondale meeting. Delago's Secret and The Tidy Express, candidates for the Gr. 2 $100,000 Skycity Hamilton Waikato Cup (2400m), finished sixth and eighth respectively in the Gr. 2 Chep Pallecon Solutions Counties Cup.
Delago's Secret was having his third run back from a spell, but he didn't get the clearest of passages in the run home and was doing his best work at the finish.
"He's a mile and a half (2400m) horse so the Waikato Cup will suit him better," said James. "I was happy with his Counties Cup run. He got shaved by the winner (Vavasour) when she went for the run in the straight."
Delago's Secret finished a creditable fourth to Surpass in last year's Gr. 3 Waikato Cup, then went on to win the Gr. 3 Scot Thrust City Of Auckland Cup at Ellerslie on New Year's Day.
That is the same path James is planning to again take this campaign with the Encosta de Lago five-year-old, who also holds nominations for the Gr. 2 $200,000 Wallaceville Estate Wellington Cup and the Gr. 1 $500,000 Barfoot & Thompson Auckland Cup.
The Tidy Express is also entered for the City Of Auckland Cup, but her connections are taking it a race at a time with her as she is in foal to exciting young sire Makfi.
Like Delago's Secret, The Tidy Express was having her third start this campaign and was doing her best work late in the Counties Cup, running on down the outside to be about a neck behind her stablemate.
She failed in last year's Waikato Cup after running fourth in the Counties Cup and has won only once beyond 1650 metres (when successful over 2100 at Ellerslie in March last year). She has, however, been runner-up in the 2014 Gr. 3 Windsor Park Hawke's Bay Gold Cup (2200m) and her last-start Counties Cup effort suggests she can't be overlooked on Saturday week.
- Waikato RC