Cambridge trainer Murray Baker is keeping a close eye on the predicted weather for the Auckland region over the next few days as he puts the finishing touches on the team that he and training partner Andrew Forsman will present at Ellerslie on Boxing Day.
The Baker-Forsman partnership dominate the field for the Gr.1 Cambridge Stud Zabeel Classic (2000m) with four acceptors in the 11-horse line-up.
Former Australian Derby winner Jon Snow will carry the number one saddlecloth in the weight-for-age contest and will be joined by Saint Emilion, Nicoletta and 2017 Zabeel Classic runner-up Lizzie L’Amour.
With more than 40mls of rain predicted in Auckland for the 48-hour period from Sunday, Baker is confident he has his bases covered should a rain-affected track present on raceday.
“The forecast doesn’t sound too good for the next couple of days, but I think we have horses that can still perform if they do get the rain that is predicted,” he said.
“We have a couple who will definitely appreciate some cut in the ground and the other two can cope, although it is not their preferred surface.
“We still have a couple of days to go before the meeting so we won’t worry too much about it until race morning.”
While not prepared to rank his runners in any particular order, Baker believes each of them possess the credentials to win the race if luck plays in their favour.
“I think we have a good chance, which is what you want when you are competing at Group One level,” he said.
“Jon Snow will certainly appreciate the rain and I think you can just turn the page on his last start at Trentham where he had no luck at all. He missed the start and got caught wide which gave him little chance to feature.
“Lizzie L’Amour has run well in this race before and she was only just beaten over 1600m at Te Rapa last time. She will definitely improve going over 2000m and has won two of her three starts on a slow track.
“Saint Emilion is as honest as they come and he has a great record over 2000m at weight-for-age on the track.
“Nicoletta is also in good form and has been placed twice at Group One level, so she deserves a win.”
Baker also rates the chances of his two runners in the Gr.2 Cambridge Stud Eight Carat Classic (1600m).
“We have a pair of nice fillies in the Eight Carat, however they do lack a little bit of experience,” he said.
“Queen Of Diamonds was an easy winner at Awapuni last time and she looks very exciting, while Espresso Martini hasn’t put a foot wrong in winning her last two starts, including one at Ellerslie.
“It’s a nice field but I expect them both to run well.”
Lizzie L’Amour is rated the best of the Baker-Forsman runners in the Zabeel Classic by the TAB bookmakers where she sits as the $3.80 second favourite behind Danzdanzdance ($2.10). Jon Snow ($9.20) is the only other runner under a $10 quote with Saint Emilion ($12) and Nicoletta ($14) respectively.
Queen Of Diamonds is the $2.90 second favourite behind New Zealand 1000 Guineas winner Media Sensation ($2.60) in the Eight Carat Classic market with Espresso Martini on the third line of betting at $5.20. – NZ Racing Desk