A trip to Riccarton awaits progressive Matamata mare Livin' On A Prayer if she proves competitive in Saturday's Gr.3 Rich Hill Stud Taranaki Breeders’ Stakes (1400m) at Hawera.
Trainer and part-owner Wayne Hillis has earmarked the impressive last-start Avondale winner for a shot at the Gr.2 Coupland's Bakeries Mile at Riccarton on November 14 and wants to see her measure up to her fellow mares at weight-for-age this weekend.
Livin' On A Prayer finished fifth to Thee Auld Floozie in the Gr.2 Westbury Classic (1400m) at Ellerslie in her only previous start in Group company but Hillis believes she is a better racehorse now.
"She raced well in her first Group race but this is another tough field so it won't be easy for her," Hillis said.
"It was a very good win at Avondale. She had improved from her first run back so we'd expected her to run well. She's thriving since that win too."
A winner of five of her 14 starts, Redwood five-year-old Livin' On A Prayer has drawn barrier seven for the Taranaki Breeders’ Stakes, in which she will be ridden by Shaun McKay.
"This is the race that fitted in best ahead of her trip to Riccarton. She should go well," Hillis said.
TAB bookmakers opened Livin' On A Prayer as a $4.60 favourite for the Hawera feature ahead of Darscape Princess at $5 and Yearn at $7.50.
Hillis has the Gr.3 Valachi Downs Canterbury Breeders’ Stakes (1400m) as a backup race but favours the Coupland's Mile the same day.
He also has last-start Tauranga winner Watch This Space on track for the Coupland's Mile, with a start in the 1400m open handicap at Ellerslie on October 27 his leadup race.
Exciting three-year-old Bit Lippy will also be part of the Riccarton travelling team, the clinical last-start Avondale winner resuming last month set to tackle the Gr.2 James and Annie Sarten Memorial Stakes (1400m) at Te Rapa on October 22 as his leadup to the Gr.1 Al Basti Equiworld 2000 Guineas (1600m) at Riccarton on November 10.
"He's come through that race well and he'll improve a ton, just like Livin' On A Prayer did with her first run. He's in good condition but he'll improve even more going into the Sarten," Hillis said.
Another stable member in line for a trip south is Imelda Mary, though Hillis is likely to bypass the three-year-old race she has been accepted for at Matamata on Saturday in favour of a 1600m maiden race at Tauranga to further her claims for the Gr.1 gavelhouse.com 1000 Guineas (1600m) at Riccarton on November 17.
A wide draw for Alphastar means Hillis won't have a runner at Matamata on Saturday but he will saddle Liquid Inspiration in the Corzon Maize 1200 at Hawera.
"She should go all right. There's meant to be rain about and she likes a bit of give in the track," he said. - NZ Racing Desk