Celebrate New Year's Eve with New Zealand racing: Spot Plays for holiday card

December 30th, 2022

As was the case last week, the biggest day of flat racing internationally this weekend is in New Zealand (New Year’s Day locally but still New Year’s Eve stateside). Six graded stakes races are on the card, along with the important Dunstan Feeds Final for improving stayers. 

Usually held at Ellerslie in Auckland, the renovation on that course means that this year it’s being hosted at Te Rapa racecourse in Hamilton. Potentially this could change up the results – Te Rapa is anti-clockwise, whereas Ellerslie is clockwise, for starters – but class should come through regardless.

Here’s a look at potential spot plays for the features, held on Saturday night ET.

Race 2, 7:16 p.m. ET: Eclipse S. (G2), 1,200 meters (about six furlongs), 2-year-olds

Early black type juvenile races in New Zealand are frequently dominated by Te Akau Racing, and that looks likely to be the case here, with three of the runners coming from Te Akau’s trainer Mark Walker. The one to beat among them is probably #1 Trobriand, who is unbeaten in two starts. He had quite a battle to win last time over #8 Shoes, but he was giving away weight all around and is well in at set weights here.

However, he has one particularly interesting opponent to beat. #7 Ulanova scored well at Te Rapa Oct. 22 despite being taken on early, and won a trial easily Dec. 12. Her trainer Stephen Marsh knows how to prepare a top two-year-old, and she looks a strong prospect here.

#2 Balance of Power, third on debut to Ulanova and second in stakes company in the meantime, and #3 To Catch A Thief, fourth to Trobriand last start, are good options for exotics.

  • $10 win/$30 show: #7 Ulanova
  • $2 trifecta: 1, 7 with 1, 7 with 2, 3, 8

Race 3, 7:49 p.m. ET: Auckland Guineas (G2), 1,600 meters (about one mile), 3-year-olds

The markets suggest this is primarily a duel between #2 Waitak, winner of the Eagle Memorial (Listed) at his last start, and the filly #10 Prowess, third against the boys in the New Zealand 2000 Guineas (G1).

Fillies often find things tough against the colts and geldings in other parts of the world, but New Zealand is one place where that is often reversed, partially because many of the best colts bred in New Zealand end up in Hong Kong, where few fillies race, or Australia. It’s arguable that Prowess is the second-best filly of her age in New Zealand behind Legarto, and she should be very competitive here.

Most of the others need to improve to win, though one that could win without surprising too much is #1 Dynastic. He hasn’t been easy to follow since winning the Karaka Million last year, but he seems best on firmer footing, which he will get here.

The two principals from a Te Rapa maiden on Dec. 17, #4 Keenasabean and #9 Bitcoin, are worth considering for exotics.

  • $10 win/$30 show: #10 Prowess
  • $2 trifecta: 2, 10 with 2, 10 with 1, 4, 9

Race 4, 8:22 p.m. ET: Dunstan Feeds Final, 2,400 meters (about 1 1/2 miles), 3-year-olds and up

As always this has drawn a very good field, and any number of horses can win. The one to watch most closely may be #3 Aquacade, who gave up a position in the Queen Elizabeth (G3) later on the card to focus on this event. She is in very good form and has the advantage of the services of jockey Warren Kennedy, the former South African who has been outstanding since his arrival in New Zealand three months ago.

#4 Contemplation tackles the race after having been kept away from the races through December. He was in fantastic form in November, and will probably enjoy the firm track.

Well backed in recent days has been #11 Canheroc, who had no luck at Te Rapa Dec. 17. If he can get a clear run he is worth following. Other solid prospects include #2 Margaret Jean, #6 Ess Vee Are, #7 Hula Beat, and #12 Nest Egg.

  • $10 win/$30 show: #3 Aquacade
  • $1 trifecta: 3, 4 with 3, 4, 11 with 2, 3, 4, 6, 7, 11, 12

Race 5, 8:55 p.m. ET: Royal S. (G2), 2,000 meters (about 1 1/4 miles), 3-year-old fillies

With the leading filly Legarto bypassing this race after winning the Eight Carat Classic (G2) last week, this provides a good opportunity for the runner-up in that race, #3 Skew Wiff, to get some compensation. Her breeding suggests she’ll like the extra two furlongs here.

She won’t have it all her own way, with some good fillies lining up. Among them is #1 Polygon, winner of the Eulogy (G3) on this track Dec. 17. There could be some doubts about her ability to get 1 1/4 miles, but she looks a classy and professional filly.

Outside these two there are plenty of options. #4 Imarichgirl, #5 Family Ties, #8 Sakura Girl, #7 Complicate, and #6 Sedaka all return from the Eulogy; a number will probably appreciate the likely firmer footing this time, but otherwise Polygon may still have their measure. If there’s one most likely to improve from that race, it’s possibly Family Ties.

It’s an even field, but I’m going to give the benefit of the doubt to Polygon.

  • $10 win/$30 show: #1 Polygon
  • $1 trifecta: 1, 3 with 1, 3 with 4, 5, 6, 7, 8

Race 7, 10:05 p.m. ET: Railway S. (G1), 1,200 meters, 3-year-olds and up

An outstanding field has been assembled again for this sprint, and there’s a good chance it could be third time lucky for #1 Levante. Raced by many of the same owners as NZ 1000 Guineas (G1) winner Legarto, she has been one of the standout sprinters in New Zealand for several years and wasn’t far away from the best in Australia in the Newmarket (G1) and Champions Sprint (G1) in the last 12 months.

However, she’s been downed twice in this race by horses from the powerful Te Akau Racing stable, and she has a worthy opponent from that stable again in the form of #3 Imperatriz. When she’s on her game she’s very good, as she showed winning the NZ Thoroughbred Breeders’ S. (G1) and Foxbridge Plate (G2) during 2022.

Running fresh and with a two-pound pull in the weights, Imperatriz has some advantage. However, Levante does run very well at Te Rapa, and I’m sticking with her to win.

The wild cards in the race are #5 Dragon Leap, who has been resurrected this season as a sprinter, and former Aussie galloper #9 Letzbeglam. The latter was an easy winner of the Counties Bowl (G3) last start and gets seven pounds from Levante; whether that’s enough to beat her is another matter, but it gives her a great chance of running in the first three. #8 Bonny Lass shouldn’t be left out of exotics either.

  • $20 win: #1 Levante
  • $1 trifecta: 1, 3 with 1, 3, 9 with 1, 3, 5, 8, 9

Race 8, 10:40 p.m. ET: Queen Elizabeth II Cup (G3), 2,400 meters, 3-year-olds and up

The major form race is clearly the Waikato Cup (G3) on this track Dec. 10, won decisively by #3 Viktor Vegas from #7 Dionysus and #5 Aromatic. Viktor Vegas is now a nine-year-old but he’s in the form of his life, having three starts back finished fourth at weight-for-age behind subsequent Zabeel Classic (G1) winner Defibrillate. Historically he has reveled in soft conditions like he had in the Waikato Cup, and the only doubt is how he will handle the likelihood of firmer ground here, but given his outstanding form he can’t be left out.

Dionysus and Aromatic, on the other hand, both have top form on good tracks and they will also get weight relief from Viktor Vegas this time. Both horses are capable of winning here.

One that could well improve from the Waikato Cup is #4 Self Obsession. She finished seventh that day, but the multiple Group 2 winner had a slower than normal recovery, and if she’s back to her best she can win this, especially on a better track.

My selection, however, is #1 Platinum Invador, who won this race in 2020 and was runner-up in 2021. He seems to have recovered well from a tendon injury which kept him away from the track last season, and his fourth placing last start in the Manawatu Cup (G3) can partially be forgiven for being on an unsuitable heavy track. On good footing he can win here.

  • $10 win/$30 show: #1 Platinum Invador
  • $1 trifecta: 1, 3 with 1, 3, 7 with 1, 3, 4, 5, 7

Race 9, 11:13 p.m. ET: Rich Hill Mile (G2), 1,600 meters, 3-year-olds and up

The market for this competitive handicap is headed at 4-1 by the much-improved #8 Encierro. He has won three of his last four starts, culminating with an open handicap Dec. 17, and has a great record at Te Rapa. He should go a bold race.

Back from Australia this season is #2 Puntura, who rejoins his former trainer Robbie Patterson. He produced a fabulous second-up run to beat all but Faithful Feat in the J Swap Sprint (G3) here Dec. 10, and has a very good record at a mile. He should improve further.

However, I’m going to look for some serious value here with #5 Express Princess. She’s been running at weight-for-age against the best fillies and mares recently, finishing second in the Auckland Breeders’ S. (G2) behind Darci La Bella and then fourth to Sinarahma in the Cal Isuzu (G2) Dec. 10. Back in handicap conditions, she should find the going easier and is worth a shot.

  • $10 win/$20 show: #5 Express Princess