Cambridge trainer Martin Da Cruz is taking a cautious approach with his talented sprinters Packing Eagle and Elusive Treasure going into Saturday's Gr.3 Sweynesse Stakes (1215m) at Rotorua.
Da Cruz is happy with his duo but wasn't exuding confidence for the weight-for-age sprint, which has attracted Group One performers the likes of Close Up, Volpe Veloce and Volks Lightning and emerging stars Julius and Love Affair.
"It looks a great race," Da Cruz said.
"We've drawn one (Packing Eagle) and 12 (Elusive Treasure) and (favourite) Julius has drawn 14 so hopefully we can get the right runs."
TAB bookmakers opened Julius a $3.20 favourite ahead of Gr.1 Railway Stakes (1200m) winner Volpe Veloce at $3.60, with Love Affair ($5.50) and Packing Eagle ($7.50) the next most favoured in the market.
Elusive Treasure opened at $61.
Packing Eagle won the Sweynesse Stakes last year before he was freshened for a tilt at the Railway Stakes at Ellerslie, where he closed strongly for second, splitting Saturday's rivals Volpe Veloce and Volks Lightning.
He was then unplaced in the Gr.1 Telegraph (1200m) at Trentham before a gallant second to Start Wondering in the Gr.1 BCD Group Sprint (1400m) at Te Rapa, after which he was found to have suffered a tendon injury.
"He's slowly building up from that injury so we'll just be assessing him race by race," Da Cruz said.
"He did it after the Group One at Te Rapa. It was a small hole and he's strong now. He's coming up well. This is his first run back so we'll just see how he goes."
Da Cruz trialled Packing Eagle at Cambridge last month, the Pins eight-year-old was not pressured to finish fifth in behind Your Way, a defector on Thursday from the Sweynesse Stakes.
"The trial was fair. It was 935m, so a bit short for him. But the 1200m should be good for him on Saturday," said Da Cruz, who will bandage Packing Eagle's legs for Saturday's race.
"It's just for safety. He could race without them but it's just to make sure he gives a good kick at the end."
Raced by Da Cruz's mother Angel, Packing Eagle won five straight races in class three and two company in Hong Kong and placed in the Gr.1 Champion's Mile (1600m) at Sha Tin in 2016 before he was sent to New Zealand.
With a rating of 104, Packing Eagle is one of the highest-rated gallopers in New Zealand, so Da Cruz is mindful of setting him for weight-for-age and set weights and penalties races, meaning another crack at the Railway Stakes is the gelding's likely summer target.
Da Cruz is happy to take his chance on Saturday with the lower-rated Elusive Treasure, who finished fifth of six runners in rating 82 company at Te Rapa last start in August.
"He should be fitter now. He ran on a heavy 11 track last time and he just sunk into the ground and couldn't kick on at all."
Elusive Treasure finished fifth behind Packing Eagle in the BCD Sprint last season. - NZ Racing Desk