Cambridge trainer Roger James believes Elate is shaping up as well as any horse he has prepared for the Gr.1 Al Basti Equiworld Dubai New Zealand Oaks (2400m).
James and co-trainer Robert Wellwood will produce the Savabeel filly in Saturday's Gr.3 McKee Family Sunline Vase (2100m) at Ellerslie, her final leadup for the Oaks at Trentham on March 16.
"She's as good a chance as I've had for a New Zealand Oaks," James said.
"I've won an Oaks in Australia (Giovana, Gr.1 Queensland Oaks (2400m) in 2000) and I did win the Oaks here with Maurita (in 1982) when I was training with Gibbsy (Hall of Fame trainer Jim Gibbs) but I haven't had one like this filly for a while."
Elate stamped her New Zealand Oaks credentials with a tough win in the Listed Oaks Prelude (1800m) at New Plymouth at her last start, having earlier finished second to Wednesday's Gr.2 Lowland Stakes (2100m) winner Queen Of Diamonds in December's Gr.3 Eulogy Stakes (1600m) at Awapuni.
"I was pretty happy with her win the other day. She's lacked a bit of luck a couple of times. We took bad luck out of play last time and she was strong to the line," James said.
"She's trained on very well. We opted for the Sunline Vase because Auckland is a bit closer than Hastings for the Lowland and we didn't want to give her three trips away with New Plymouth, Hastings then Wellington for the Oaks.
"I've thought for a long time she was an Oaks filly. She's quite aggressive in her work but she relaxes in her races and she always finds the line."
With Cameron Lammas committed to Imelda Mary, a winner of the Gr.2 Royal Stakes (2000m) and Gr.2 Sir Tristram Fillies Classic (2000m) before her Lowland third on Wednesday, for the Oaks, James has engaged Troy Harris for the Sunline Vase.
TAB bookmakers opened Elate a joint $6.50 favourite for Saturday's race along with Gr.2 Eight Carat Classic (1600m) winner Pinmedown.
"I'd be disappointed if she didn't run a big race," James said.
"She's drawn awkwardly (in barrier 10) so we're hoping for luck in running but staying is her forte. She'll run out a strong 2100m on Saturday and the 2400m of the Oaks will suit her down to the ground."
Bred by the Hawkins family's Llanhennock Trust, Elate was a $270,000 Karaka yearling purchase for James on behalf of Waikato owners Colin and Helen Litt.
Meanwhile, James, who will also produce Fawn at Ellerslie on Saturday, has confirmed last Saturday's Listed Kaimai Stakes (2000m) runner-up Rondinella will have her next start in the Gr.1 Bonecrusher New Zealand Stakes (2000m) at Ellerslie on Saturday week. - NZ Racing Desk