Shelley Hale is giving Grant Cooksley the opportunity to get a line on both her stable stars at Te Rapa on Saturday.
Cooksley will ride Close Up in the open sprint, despite the handicapper shocking Hale by giving the Group One winner 63.5kg, and the Cambridge trainer has decided to also take the Group Two-winning stablemate Seventh Up to Te Rapa for an exhibition gallop between races with Cooksley in the saddle.
The Te Rapa race has been included in the programme for Close Up after he missed a fresh-up run recently because of a stone bruise. He was to be ridden that day by Cambridge apprentice Eilish McCall with Hale planning to make use of her 4kg claim.
“He was given 62.5 kilos that day and I was going for the claim because all the rest bar one were on 54 kilos, the minimum,” Hale said. “I was expecting the same weight or maybe a bit less this time because this race is a stronger field with the likes of Julius in it.
“I’m stunned by the weight, but he needs to go round. I’ll stick with Cookie because I want to get a line on him for the Foxbridge Plate and Tarzino Trophy, but he can’t win with that weight.”
Close Up has 4kgs more than Julius, his nearest-weighted rival, and he will be giving up to 9.5kgs to the other opposition.
“He’s far better suited when he gets to weight-for-age and he meets most of them on level terms,” Hale said.
“The same happened last year. He was carrying 60kg and giving them all too much weight until the Foxbridge and that’s when he became really competitive.”
Close Up was runner-up to Underthemoonlight in last year’s Gr.2 Lisa Chittick Foxbridge Plate (1200m) then he turned the tables on the Matamata mare when he won the Gr.1 Tarzino Trophy (1400m), providing Hale with her first Group One win.
Cooksley has been aboard Close Up in every one of his last 11 starts for four wins and four placings, including a second in last year’s Gr.1 Windsor Park Plate (1600m).
He also made the trip to the Te Rapa trials a couple of weeks ago to ride Close Up when second to Melody Belle over 900 metres and he gave the nine-year-old an exhibition gallop between races at Rotorua last Saturday.
Both Cooksley and Hale agreed Close Up definitely needed the hit-out at Rotorua.
“He’s still a bit burly and he had a good puff after the gallop,” Hale said. “But he recovered really quickly and I’m happy with him.
“It was tough in that going at Rotorua, but he ran home a couple of seconds faster for the last 600 metres than most of the winners did on the day.”
Hale also has Seventh Up entered for this year’s Tarzino Trophy and he could also be considered for the Foxbridge Plate, depending on how he performs in his exhibition gallop this weekend.
“He’s had a couple of pieces of fast work and he’s going well,” Hale said. “Getting the gallop into him at Te Rapa on Saturday will bring him on and it will also be a chance for Cookie to assess how he’s going.
“If he works up well and Cookie is happy with him he could go to the Foxbridge Plate with Close Up.”
If the two Group winners do clash in the Foxbridge Plate and/or the Tarzino Trophy, Cooksley will have a tough choice to make as he is the regular rider of both horses.
“I’ll leave it up to Cookie if that happens,” Hale said. “I know he’s got a high opinion of Seventh Up, but he might want to stick with Close Up at this stage. He’ll know more after Saturday. It’ll be a good chance for him to get a line on them both.” – NZ Racing Desk