New Zealand: Spot Plays for Christmas Black Type racing

December 23rd, 2022

If you’re wanting to play some high-quality racing on Christmas and can’t wait for North American racing to resume the day after, the place to look toward is New Zealand.

Four black-type races, including a Group 1, are being staged at Pukekohe, just south of Auckland on what will already be Dec. 26 there. Normally one of the best-attended days of racing in New Zealand, this card is usually staged at Ellerslie Racecourse in the Auckland metropolitan area but with the course being remodeled, the big day has been switched to Pukekohe.

The horses won’t lose anything by running at Pukekohe, a spacious track with a 2 1/2-furlong stretch, one of the longest in the country, and there should be plenty of quality to watch. Let’s look at some spot plays for the big races.

Race 5, 9:08 p.m. ET: Hallmark Stud H. (Listed), 1,200 meters (about 6 furlongs), 3yos and up

A field of 14 is set to contest this sprint, which looks an open race. The best form coming into the race is clearly from #1 El Vencedor, who was third behind two very good horses in Dragon Leap and Babylon Berlin last start. He’s got a bit of weight to carry but if he repeats that form he looks tough to roll.

The interesting runner for me is #5 Green Aeon. He was a decent sprinter in Hong Kong until being sent to New Zealand this year, and at his first start he scored nicely at Te Rapa Dec. 10. Firmer footing may help improve him.

#6 Sassy Merlot is capable on her day and faces weaker company than at her last start, while #9 Fashion Shoot can get some of the money provided she isn’t caught too wide from her awkward barrier.

  • $10 win/$30 show: #1 El Vencedor
  • $1 trifecta: 1, 5 with 1, 5, 6, 9 with 1, 5, 6, 9

Race 6, 9:43 p.m. ET: Eight Carat Classic (G2), 1,600 meters (about one mile), 3-year-old fillies

This is normally one of the most competitive races of the season for three-year-old fillies. However, one horse looms very large over this field: #1 Legarto.

Unbeaten in four races, Legarto thrashed New Zealand’s best sophomore fillies in the New Zealand 1000 Guineas (G1) Nov. 14. The only drama she caused that day was when her bridle broke before being loaded in the starting gates. If she is in anything like the form she was at her last start, it’s difficult to see her opponents beating her.

The best option is probably to look for trifectas. Trainer Andrew Forsman has three runners, all with some chance: #3 Wessex did well to finish second last start after scooting to a large early lead, while her stablemate #6 Sassyness won well at her previous effort, and #4 Imarichgirl was fourth at Group 3 level a week ago. #5 Nana’s Wish has shown ability, as has #7 Skew Wiff, though the latter won’t want to miss the start as she did last time. #2 Librarsi also has claims.

  • $30 win: #1 Legarto
  • $1 trifecta: 1 with 2, 6, 7 with 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7

Race 7, 10:18 p.m. ET: Uncle Remus S. (Listed), 1,400 meters (about 7 furlongs), 3-year-olds

A pretty decent line-up of three-year-olds here. #1 Wild Night is one of the best three-year-old males in the country, having won his last four, and he has strong claims. But he faces a very good one on the rise in the form of #2 Sacred Satono, whose only loss in four starts this season was against older horses in the Counties Bowl (G3) over an unsuitably-short 5 1/2 furlongs. He showed a bit of class in beating #4 The Intimidator and #7 I’mintowin and can win again.

The prospects don’t end there, and in particular they include #6 Desert Lightning, a very close second in the New Zealand 2000 Guineas (G1) Nov. 5, and #3 Alfriston, fourth in that same race. However, Desert Lightning had earlier finished second to Sacred Satono at the beginning of the season, and I’m going with the son of Satono Aladdin to prevail.

  • $10 win/$30 show: #2 Sacred Satono
  • $1 trifecta: 1, 2 with 1, 2 with 3, 4, 5, 6, 7

Race 8, 10:54 p.m. ET: Stella Artois Final, 1,500 meters (about 7 1/2 furlongs), 3yos and up

Though not a black type race, this special conditions event gets a lot of good horses on the way up and is a fantastic race for bettors, with the favorite likely to be around 4-1.

The one they may have to beat is #2 Faraglioni. She’s had a great campaign leading into this, scoring consecutive wins prior to a nice third at Te Rapa Dec. 17.

Last-start winner #1 Habana should be right in the mix, but I’m going to tip one that just went down to her last start in the form of #5 Dubai Diva. The latter is about three pounds better off at the weights here and that may be enough to turn the margin around.

  • $10 win/$30 show: #5 Dubai Diva

Race 9, 11:28 p.m. ET: Zabeel Classic (G1), 2,050 meters (about 1.27 miles), 3yos and up

Normally one of the better races on the New Zealand calendar, this year's field doesn’t have great depth, and three of the contenders are locally-owned horses that were in Australia this time last year.

The best chance of that trio may be #2 Defibrillate, who after several years in Victoria has returned to his original trainer Graham Richardson this year. He raced well first-up for third on a very wet track in the Livamol Classic (G1) Oct. 15 before heading to this track to win the Balmerino (G3) narrowly Nov. 1 from another of the Australian returnees, #3 The Mayor.

Defibrillate has not run since the Balmerino, whereas The Mayor was ninth in the interim in the Counties Cup (G3), a run perhaps better than it looked given he was conceding at least 4kg (about 9 pounds) to all the horses ahead of him.

The third returnee is in New Zealand for a hit-and-run raid on the race. #7 Polly Grey won four races in New Zealand before moving to the Chris Waller stable in Sydney. There she has won another five, all at Group 3 and Listed level. This field isn’t much stronger than what she’s beaten in Australia, but she’s yet to find form in three starts this campaign.

The best of the normally resident New Zealanders look to be #1 Prise De Fer, who won his first Group 1 race at his 14th attempt in the Captain Cook S. Dec. 3, and the mare #8 Sinarahma, who was a clear-cut winner last start in the Cal Isuzu (G2) Dec. 10. Sinarahma is in foal but like a number of mares in that state, has found a new zest for racing this campaign. Keep an eye also on #4 Harlech, who can improve if the track stays good.

I’m going to focus my bets on Defibrillate and Sinarahma, with the others in exotics.

  • $10 win/$40 show: #2 Defibrillate
  • $1 trifecta: 2, 8 with 2, 7, 8 with 1, 2, 3, 4, 7, 8.