Veteran stayer Sampson is well placed to add Saturday’s New Zealand St Leger to his tally.
The conditions of the Listed Yealands Family Wines New Zealand St Leger at Trentham have been changed this year, giving the well-performed stayer Sampson a shot at a Wellington Cup consolation.
The nine-year-old emerged as a leading Wellington Cup contender with an easy win in the main lead-up race, the Listed Marton Cup in early January. However, a cruelly timed stone bruise forced him to be scratched on the morning of the race.
Trainer Howie Mathews has instead set his sights on Saturday’s St Leger, which has this year been opened up to all ages. It had previously been restricted to three and four-year-olds.
“Hopefully we can head to Trentham and get a little something back after what happened with the Wellington Cup,” Mathews said.
Sampson has had two starts since that Wellington Cup scratching. A solid fourth under 62.5 kilograms in a 2200-metre Rating 82 in late February, he lined up in a four-horse field over 1600 metres at Trentham last Saturday.
“He’s going into this weekend’s race in really good order,” Mathews said. “He had to go around last Saturday in the open 1600-metre race. We were hoping to run him in an open 2200-metre race, but it was deleted.
“The distance was well short of his best, but he still ran quite a good race. He finished within four lengths of Peter Lock’s good Group performer Hiflyer (second) and Patrick Campbell’s horse (Hunta Pence, first) who is absolutely on fire in this preparation. We’re happy with our horse.”
Sampson’s rating of 93 towers over his rivals, with Soleseifei the second-highest-rated runner at 74. The set weights and penalties conditions of Saturday’s race play even further into his favour.
“As the only Group or Listed winner in the field, he’ll carry the topweight but will have only 55.5 kilograms,” Mathews said. “His rating is a lot higher than the rest of the field, and he certainly won’t be giving as much weight away to them as he would be in a handicap. There won’t be any claims either, so it favours us a bit.”
The St Leger may no longer be restricted to three and four-year-olds, but there are still some talented youngsters in the field with the credentials to make their presence felt.
Special Light has won her last three in a row, all over a middle-distance, including a convincing last-start performance on Derby day at Ellerslie two weeks ago. The Redoute’s Choice mare is trained by Tony Pike for owners Brent, Cherry and Faith Taylor of Trelawney Stud.
The Boy Wonder was stakes-placed in the Listed 3YO Salver at Ellerslie last season and has been making up ground late in all of his six starts in this campaign.
“Being over 2600 metres, this looks like the perfect race for him,” co-trainer Pam Gerard said. “He comes from a real staying family, and the way he’s been finishing off his races suggests he wants this sort of trip. It should be ideal.
“We’re a little bit short on these sorts of races, aside from the big Cups, so hopefully he can take advantage of the opportunity this weekend.”