2YO hitting right notes ahead of Karaka Million

Unbeaten filly Play That Song. Photo: Trish Dunell

Pukekohe trainer Nigel Tiley believes undefeated filly Play That Song (NZ) (Showcasing) is hitting all the right notes heading into Saturday’s $1 million Karaka Million 2YO (1200m) at Ellerslie.

The daughter of Showcasing, whom Tiley owns with wife Lee, her sister Mandy and close friends Richard Cole and Alex Opie, has come on further since defeating race rival Not An Option (Not A Single Doubt) in the Gr.2 Eclipse Stakes (1200m) at Ellerslie on New Year’s Day.

“She is right up there with the best two-year-olds I have had,” Tiley said.

“She is really well. I let her do a little bit of work this morning (Wednesday) and Lee rode her and was very happy with her. She is obviously a little bit sharper than she was before the Eclipse and she recovered very quickly this morning, so fitness wise I am very happy with her.”

Tiley identified the precocious juvenile as Lot 944 in Book 2 of last year’s New Zealand Bloodstock National Yearling Sale in the Windsor Park Stud draft and ultimately paid $40,000 for the daughter of one of his favourite stallions.

But the former champion jockey turned trainer admitted she was not the first horse on his short-list, with Tiley noted as a trader of horses and the Asian markets preferring colts and geldings.

“I went to the sales really adamant that I wanted to buy a colt by Showcasing. The stallion is no longer shuttling to New Zealand and there weren’t going to be too many opportunities left to buy them,” he said. “We tried to buy a few colts and just could not get warm.

“I just said to the guys that we might have to change tack. We might need to see if we can find ourselves a filly.

“I went and looked at a few fillies and I narrowed it down to two. The other one came up first and was outside of our budget but we managed to get this one for $40,000, so it has worked out well.

“I had a filly called Midnight Gossip by Showcasing and if she had been sound, she could have been anything and I had Showboy (also by the sire) who won the Wakefield Challenge Stakes (Gr.2, 1100m).”

Named after a song by American rock band Train, Play That Song has been installed a $1.90 favourite after drawing well in barrier 4, while key rival Not An Option drew the outside gate (14).

From a handful of runners Tiley has finished midfield with Oscar Eight (NZ) (Showcasing) in 2017 and the Justice League (NZ) (I Am Invincible) in 2015.

“We had Showboy ready for the Karaka Million and we sold him on the Monday before the race,” Tiley said. “On the Wednesday he knocked a joint so he was going to run in it for his new owners but unfortunately we had to scratch him.

“It would be a great thrill to win the race because if you go to the sales and buy a horse and there are over 1,000 horses catalogued, and if you bought the one that actually won the two-year-old race, it would be a pretty big achievement.”

While Tiley said victory in a million dollar race naturally would be a welcome boost prior to Karaka, he wasn’t happy with the direction the domestic racing industry is heading at present, bemoaning the rate of change since the recommendations handed down in the Messara Report in August 2018.

“I haven’t got any faith in the industry at the moment,” he said. “I want to see less talk and more action.”

The Pukekohe conditioner has taken great heart from the fact jockey James McDonald was keen to return to New Zealand to ride Play That Song in the Karaka Million after partnering the filly to victory in the Eclipse Stakes.

“James was adamant that he wanted to come back and ride her,” he said.

“He was very bullish after she won the Eclipse. He gave me some very positive feedback about her, so when you get a rider of his calibre that gets off and says ‘can I ride her in the Karaka Million,’ you’ve got to be very pleased.”

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