Classy grey mare Aromatic will attempt to follow in the footsteps of a former stablemate when she returns to Pukekohe on Saturday to defend her title in the Gr.3 Counties Cup (2100m).
Te Akau Racing previously celebrated back-to-back Counties Cup victories with In A Twinkling, who won the race in 2019 and 2020 for trainer Jamie Richards.
Aromatic recorded the first stakes success of her career in last year’s Counties Cup, but by the end of the season she had added another two in the Gr.2 Travis Stakes (2000m) and Gr.3 Manawatu Breeders’ Stakes (2000m).
The daughter of Sacred Falls has spent her entire spring so far in weight-for-age company, producing creditable performances for eighth in the Gr.1 Tarzino Trophy (1400m), seventh in the Gr.1 Arrowfield Stud Plate (1600m) and sixth in the Gr.1 Livamol Classic (2040m) before a strong last-start second in Pukekohe’s Gr.3 Balmerino Stakes (2050m).
The Balmerino Stakes was won by Aquacade, who is again among Aromatic’s opposition this weekend. While both mares carried 57kg under the weight-for-age conditions of that race, Aromatic drops to 55.5kg on Saturday while Aquacade goes up to 59kg.
“Aromatic ran a really big race in the Balmerino last start,” co-trainer Sam Bergerson said. “Aquacade is obviously a fantastic mare and is going to be hard to beat again, but we do get a bit of weight off her this time under the handicap conditions.
“Aromatic came through that race in great order. We’re very happy with her and hoping she can defend her title in the race. The weather forecast keeps changing, but if there’s any rain around it will probably help her even more. But she’s such a consistent mare anyway and always tries hard, and I’m sure it’ll be no different on Saturday.”
The Te Akau Racing team has runners in all of Saturday’s black-type features, including a two-pronged attack on the Gr.2 Dunstan Horsefeeds Auckland Thoroughbred Breeders’ Stakes (1400m) with Wolverine and Campionessa.
Wolverine was a Group One placegetter as a two-year-old for Bergerson’s father Roydon, then went on to a successful three-year-old season in Australia that featured five black-type placings. The daughter of Tivaci was subsequently bought by Te Akau Racing principal David Ellis for A$850,000, and she returned to New Zealand racing with a fourth in the Listed Legacy Lodge Sprint (1200m) on November 11.
“That run was a little bit of a head-scratcher, because we thought she might round off a little bit better than she did,” Bergerson said. “In saying that, she’s definitely gone the right way since then and taken good improvement out of the race.
“Stepping up to 1400m will suit her. It’s probably not the strongest edition of the Breeders’ Stakes, so she’ll get her chance. The outside barrier is a little bit niggly, but having Opie (Bosson) in the saddle is a big plus.”
Campionessa won last season’s Gr.2 Rich Hill Mile (1600m) and later recorded Group One placings in the Herbie Dyke Stakes (2000m) and New Zealand Stakes (2050m).
The Contributer mare was freshened after a disappointing unplaced run in the Gr.1 Arrowfield Stud Plate (1600m) at the end of September.
“This is short of her best distance, so we’ll just be happy to see her running on,” Bergerson said. “She’s been looking fantastic at home. It’s a nice race to kick her back off in, and she’s well suited at weight-for-age. It should lead nicely into next month’s Cal Isuzu Stakes (Gr.2, 1600m).”
Star Witness filly Bellatrix Star will take her place among a stellar line-up of two-year-olds in Saturday’s Listed Counties Challenge Stakes.
Bellatrix Star won the first two-year-old race of the season at Wanganui in early September, then finished third at Te Rapa on November 11.
“She probably just overdid things a little bit at Te Rapa last time,” Bergerson said. “But she’s a filly that we’ve always really liked. She’s a nice, speedy two-year-old.
“It’s a small field on Saturday but pretty high in quality, so we should know more from a Karaka Millions (1200m) perspective after this race.
“It looks like there’ll be some speed on, so I’d say we’ll be neutral out of the gates and hope that she can settle a little bit better. We know that she can finish with a very good turn of foot.”
Group One winner Romancing The Moon has been freshened since her last-start fifth in the Gr.3 Spring Sprint (1400m) and drops back in distance for Saturday’s Gr.3 Haunui Farm Counties Bowl (1100m).
“We gave her a quick freshen-up after that last run at Hastings, and we thought this would be a nice race to get her back on track,” Bergerson said. “There are a couple of sharp horses in there that might be tough to beat, but it wouldn’t surprise us if she ran a cheeky race. It would be great to pick up a bit more black type.”