A Roger James-trained runner was confidently predicted to take out the main race at Pukekohe today and the Cambridge conditioner duly obliged, but it wasn’t with the punters' elect.
James produced unbeaten mare Romantic Maid as the warm favourite in the Schlaepfer Shearing-sponsored Rating 75 contest, but she could manage only fourth as stablemate The Hassler produced a gritty effort to score his third career victory.
Fresh off the back of a two-week break after finishing ninth in the New Zealand Derby, The Hassler was expected by James to need the run. But the gelding belied that assessment as he sat one out on a solid speed before outfinishing pacemaker Nailed It in a driving finish.
“He had two weeks off after finishing ninth in the Derby and his record suggests he needs a wet track,” said James before the race.
“We’re getting him ready for a $100,000 2100-metre race at Ellerslie in a fortnight, so we are hoping the tracks can soften before then.”
The Hassler’s form had been franked by the winning performance of Humidor in last week's Gr. 3 Manawatu Classic, with The Hassler having beaten that runner at Te Rapa before finishing fifth in the Gr. 2 Avondale Guineas before his Derby effort.
Romantic Maid’s rider Michael McNab was far from disappointed with his charge’s run, noting that she was awkwardly away from her barrier at the start and made good ground in the run home. That suggested she is ready for a middle-distance assignment in the immediate future.
The race was the feature event on the Counties Racing Club's programme, the first meeting held at Pukekohe Park since August 2014. The renovated track played well and received positive reviews.