Karaka Million 2YO (1200m) aspirant Piaggio (outside). Photo: Race Images
Otaki trainer Johno Benner has an enviable record in the Karaka Million but he’s putting no pressure on himself with his 2020 candidate Piaggio.
Benner and his partner Hollie Wynyard had Piaggio entered for both the NZB Insurance Pearl Series Race (1200m) at Ellerslie on Sunday and the William The Protector Premier (1200m) at Trentham on Saturday but have opted for the latter assignment this weekend.
Piaggio, a son of Benner’s 2014 Karaka Million winner Vespa, sits just outside the final field for the Karaka Million 2YO (1200m) at Ellerslie on January 25 and needs to earn prizemoney this weekend to push his way up the order of entry to secure a start.
“He’ll run really well and realistically he needs to run one or two if we want to get a start in the Karaka Million,” Benner said.
“We’re not stressing about it. We’ve decided to run at Wellington. We’ve found that all our two-year-olds have run really well first time around Ellerslie before and we’re not too concerned about not having a run there first if we do get there.
“If he was to have run at Ellerslie this weekend, it would have meant two trips which would have been hard enough on him. We’d rather chance our arm at Wellington, closer to home.”
It’s been far from plain sailing for Benner and Wynyard with Piaggio, a five-length trial winner before finishing third to Karaka Million contenders Cool Aza Beel and De La Terre at Wanganui on debut.
He then dropped rider Jason Waddell soon after the start at his second appearance when sent out a $1.50 favourite at Otaki and while he followed up with a trial win and a raceday win at Tauherenikau, he was late scratched at Awapuni last month after he spun around in the barriers and got his front legs over the back of the gates.
Piaggio got the approval of stewards to return to the races when he ran second in a jumpout at Levin on Wednesday under a strong hold from raceday rider Lisa Allpress.
“It was a pretty tidy jumpout. Lisa had plenty of horse left at the finish,” Benner said.
“We rode him a bit quieter at the jumpouts and that seemed to agree with him so that means we do have options from his wide gate on Saturday.
“He’s a very capable horse and we just need everything to go smoothly. If he does, he’ll be right in the thick of things. He’s a horse we’ve got a lot of time for. He’s got a lot of ability.”
Piaggio could be Benner’s fourth runner in the Karaka Million after Vespa, Touche (Third in 2013) and Kingsman (third in 2016). He is currently a $31 shot in the TAB’s Karaka Million futures market.
While the cutoff for earnings is likely to lift, it currently sits at $10,000, with Piaggio’s earnings on $7250.
Saturday’s first prize of $18,750 would ensure the winner a start in the Karaka Million if eligible, while Sunday’s first prize at Ellerslie of $13,500 should do the same, with Cool Aza Beel needing to boost his tally of $9000.
Sunday’s two-year-old race features 10 Karaka Million hopefuls with only Vernazza not eligible. Bordeaux Le Rouge, Trident, Hasstobemagic and Dragon Queen all sit inside the top 14 of New Zealand Bloodstock’s conditional order for the Karaka Million leading into weekend racing, as does Trentham runner Ohio Showgirl.