Sheriff has come up the passing lane to down to win Sunday’s Cheviot Cup at Addington, Blair Orange doing the driving.
Sheriff regained winning form for the first time since that exhilarating New Zealand Derby last year when he outgunned a Dunn armada in the Cheviot Cup at Addington last Sunday.
But trainer Nigel McGrath says we have really only been seeing glimpses of the real Sheriff lately and if the situation doesn’t improve in coming weeks, he will “quite happily pull his shoes” for the rest of the season.
“We’re still working towards the Easter Cup and I’m going to start taking him to the beach shortly, but we could quite easily pull stumps before long.”
“He’s been troubled by bad quarter cracks all season and he’s not where I would like him to be,” said McGrath.
“He’s been swimming and doing other stuff to help his feet, but we haven’t really been working on his fitness properly and we’ve just been treading water.
“At his level of racing and with the times they’re going, you can’t afford to be anything less than 100%.
“We’re still working towards the Easter Cup and I’m going to start taking him to the beach shortly, but we could quite easily pull stumps before long.
“Things would need to improve significantly before we consider a trip to Auckland anyway because the quality of the fields up there could be anything.”
McGrath was referring to possible Taylor Mile and Messenger fields in May that could include Spankem, Turn It Up, Alta Maestro, Ashley Locaz, Funatthebeach, All U Need Is Faith, Pat’s Delight, Sicario and Henry Hubert ahead of the Jewels at Addington.
The latter was huge last Sunday in going down by less than a length after giving Sheriff a 20-length head start with a tardy start.
Henry Hubert is a very good horse and still on the way up, but the race underlined just how short Sheriff is on true match fitness.
He won easily enough in 3.13 as they came home in 55.5 and 28.1, but they were still around five seconds slower than that epic Derby last April run in an all-comers national record of 3.05.4, a mile rate of 1.54.7.
The quarter crack issues began as a three-year-old, “but it was manageable” back then, according to McGrath.
McGrath was setting Sheriff for the New Zealand Cup in the spring and that is when the situation took a turn for the worse.
He was last home in the Ashburton Flying Stakes and then not sighted until finishing fifth in the Ashburton Cup.
Two further placings followed before his Cheviot Cup success but on the whole, Sheriff has not been racing up to the standard one would expect.
“It’s not like it’s a suspensory or tendon problem or something else that could be career threatening – it’s just bone and it will grow back given the chance.
“That’s why I’m thinking it might be best to just get him right sooner rather than later and then we can have time on our side to get him ready for the (New Zealand) Cup.
“You don’t get too many chances to win that and we might not get a better crack (or a better horse for it) at it.”
The situation around Sheriff has pretty much summed up McGrath’s entire season, which has been “a bit of a write off” for one reason or another.
Dizzy Miss Lizzy has gone to Australia to race out of Tim Butt’s stable and good three-year-old trotter Jake The Mus has joined Kevin Pizzuto in Sydney in preparation for trotting features mainly in Victoria.
The Muscle Hill colt is owned in America and is just a chance to return for the Sales race in May and a fortnight out from the Jewels.
“He’s paid up for a lot of good races over there and it’s a chance to dodge the good ones here and earn some good coin. He has a big future.”
Dizzy Miss Lizzy’s form this season has been very disappointing on the face of it, but McGrath was actually very pleased with her last two races against the mares and she won her Australia debut at Menangle on Tuesday night in 1.52.
“She never got a gap behind Dibaba and went to the line hard held and then in the Breeders Stakes she was doing work three wide a lap out to get parked.
“She is a bit one dimensional and needs to be driven with a sit.
“The problem with her is that she’s just been so difficult to place – she was one of the best horses in the stable and she wasn’t earning anything.
“Yet she can go to Australia and be an M0/C0 and race every week and win them in a row.”
Dizzy Miss Lizzy won the Jewels at two and chased home Shez All Rock at Cambridge last and earned $244,000 from her 18 races in New Zealand.
Yet she was able to start in a C0/C1 race at Menangle this week where she somehow paid $7.
McGrath has been getting on a bit of a roll with nine wins since Christmas and one of the recent ones in Samskara scoring at Ashburton in 1.53.9 was very pleasing, as “it set her up for a broodmare career very nicely”.
The brilliantly-bred Christian Cullen mare has now won seven races and $59,000 for Paul Renwick and she no doubt has a date booked with Bettor’s Delight later this year.
McGrath has also started stepping out his two-year-olds, with three of them having their first workouts at Ashburton on Tuesday, although none were pulled out.
They included Sheriff’s brother El Dorado, while Cloud Nine is another Bettor’s Delight colt from a Christian Cullen mare and The Weapon is a Bettor’s Delight colt and the first foal from the well-bred and performed Art Major mare Tandias Bromac.
Blue Ivy (Sweet Lou) and Chloe Rose (Muscle Hill) were two-year-old fillies to line up at the Rangiora trials yesterday, although “it’s too early to get much of a line on them yet”.
McGrath did not have a crack at Sheriff’s brother at the yearling sales this year although he did wind up with nine yearlings in Christchurch, including the brother to Jack’s Legend and Joanne’s A Delight which Peter Boag sorted out for $50,000.
McGrath bought the Father Patrick colt from Hot Pants for $50,000, while his pacers included three Bettor’s Delights with one being a brother to Franco Cristiano at $75,000 and the other two from Christian Cullen mares.
“I went to Auckland but came up empty-handed there – you never get a bargain on a good yearling at Karaka.
“But there’s a lot more to choose from in Christchurch and you can get some nice horses in the middle market.”
McGrath had placings with his other starters last weekend – seconds with Majestic Chevron and Georgias Baron at Addington while One Over Da Son (second) and Duke (fourth) also raced on Sunday.
Trotting filly Majestic Chevron was particularly pleasing after being held up on the home turn and running Cheerful to a length in the Sires Stakes Classique.
“We’ve had some steering issues with her but she’s getting better and I’m setting her for the Trotting Oaks.”
That race is in a fortnight and in the meantime Majestic Chevron has headed south for the Southland Trotting Oaks at Ascot Park on Saturday, where she meets pretty much the same field and has drawn inside of Cheerful.
So, the next few weeks are going to be interesting, but for none more so than Sheriff, as “it will tell the story” on his immediate future.