Hall of Fame trainer Murray Baker produced a memorable trifecta in last year's Gr.2 Cal Isuzu Stakes (1600m) at Te Rapa and while he's not confident he can repeat the feat, at least with three runners in the fillies and mares feature, he's giving himself a chance.
Lizzie L'Amour anchored the trifecta in last year's race, defeating stablemates Love Affair and Stolen Dance, who went on to win the Gr.1 Thorndon Mile (1600m) at Trentham before she was retired to stud.
Lizzie L'Amour and Love Affair are back to tackle this year's race and are joined by twice-Group One-placed Nicoletta.
Matthew Cameron, who guided Love Affair to a tenacious last-start win in the Gr.3 Eagle Technology Stakes (1600m) at Ellerslie, has plumped for Lizzie L'Amour as his mount, leaving Opie Bosson to ride Love Affair and Jonathan Riddell to partner Nicoletta.
"It was a good race for us last year and while there are one or two good mares up against us, our three have all got form on the board," said Baker, who trains in partnership with Andrew Forsman.
"Lizzie L'Amour is going along well. She can sprint a good mile fresh. She hasn't done a lot since her last run but she's freshened up nicely."
TAB bookmakers opened Lizzie L’Amour and Love Affair as equal $2.60 favourites, ahead of Nicoletta on the second line of betting at $6.50.
A Group One winner of the New Zealand Stakes (2000m) at Ellerslie and Herbie Dyke Stakes (2000m) at Te Rapa, Zabeel six-year-old Lizzie L'Amour will be shooting for her third straight win at the meeting after claiming the Gr.3 SkyCity Hamilton Waikato Cup (2400m) in 2016.
She followed her gallant second placing in the Gr.1 Livamol Classic (2040m) at Hastings with a solid second to stablemate Saint Emilion in the Gr.3 OMF Stakes (2000m) at Ellerslie last month.
There were 18 rating points between Lizzie L'Amour and Love Affair last year but just one separates the pair going into Saturday's race.
"She loves Te Rapa, Love Affair," Baker said of the winner of six of her 12 starts, three of those wins coming in four starts at the Hamilton track.
"She had to do a bit of work at Ellerslie last start and I thought the second horse had her measure, so it was a good effort to pick her up."
Fellow Savabeel five-year-old mare Nicoletta has already been twice Group One-placed and has been in good form this season, winning the Gr.3 Taranaki Breeders' Stakes (1400m) at Hawera before finishing second in the Gr.2 Tauranga Stakes (1600m) and fourth in the Gr.2 Auckland Thoroughbred Breeders Stakes (1400m) at Pukekohe last start.
"She's always thereabouts. Most of her runs have been in Group races and she's always competitive. We can't see that changing again this weekend," Baker said.
Safely through this weekend's race, Lizzie L'Amour and Nicoletta could clash in the Gr.1 Zabeel Classic (2000m) at Ellerslie on Boxing Day, while the Gr.2 Rich Hill Mile (1600m) at Ellerslie is a possible target for Love Affair. - NZ Racing Desk