Matamata trainer Jamie Richards is well used to marking off new benchmarks in career highlights.
Winning the New Zealand 2000 Guineas (1600m) with Xtravagant at Riccarton in 2015 to bring up the first Group One win of his career has begun a sequence of highlights, which have come to a head in 2020.
A Karaka Million double at Ellerslie in January through Cool Aza Beel (NZ) (Savabeel) in the 1200m two-year-old feature and Probabeel (NZ) (Savabeel) in the three-year-old Classic over 1600m led into a memorable Group One double in Sydney a month later through Probabeel in the Surround Stakes (1400m) and Te Akau Shark (NZ) (Rip Van Winkle) in the Chipping Norton Stakes (1600m) at Randwick.
The following week Cool Aza Beel won the Gr.1 Sistema Stakes (1200m) at Ellerslie, the same day as Avantage (Fastnet Rock) won the Gr.1 New Zealand Stakes (2000m) at the same venue and only last month, Richards produced Melody Belle (NZ) (Commands) to win the Gr.1 Windsor Park Plate (1600m) at Hastings and Probabeel to win the Gr.1 Epsom Handicap (1600m) at Randwick on the same day.
The 31-year-old horseman will shoot for another trans-Tasman Group One double on Saturday, with Need I Say More (No Nay Never) contesting the Al Basti Equiworld Dubai New Zealand 2000 Guineas at Riccarton and Melody Belle tackling the $A2 million Mackinnon Stakes (2000m) at Flemington.
Richards has high hopes for both.
“Melody Belle is good. She’s done a lot of travelling now and she’s back in familiar surroundings,” he said.
“She’s worked up nicely. She had a run along on the steeple grass earlier in the week and worked nicely again this morning (Thursday). She’s hitting out nice and freely. Any rain will only assist her too but we couldn’t have her any better.”
Tuesday’s Melbourne Cup-winning jockey Jye McNeil will ride Melody Belle from barrier six as the 11-time Group One winning Commands mare looks to go one better than her second placing to Magic Wand in the same race last year.
“It’s a tough field, up against proper Group One horses in a well-established premier Group One race so we knew she had to be ready to take on the best,” Richards said.
“But she hasn’t taken a backwards step with the travel over there and we think she’s going really well. I’d be disappointed if she didn’t run in the top three. She’s as honest as the day is long. She won’t let us down.”
TAB bookmakers have Melody Belle as a $4.80 third favourite behind Arcadia Queen (Pierro) at $2.90 and Mugatoo (Henrythenavigator) at $4.50, while younger stablemate Need I Say More heads the 2000 Guineas market at $2.70, shading Aegon (NZ) (Sacred Falls) at $3.20.
“He’s going well. His work has been good and we’re happy with him,” Richards said of the No Nay Never gelding who flew to Christchurch on Thursday morning.
“He’ll have a quiet canter tomorrow morning (Friday) depending on how he eats up when he gets there. He’s ready. He had his final hit-out on Tuesday morning and the flight down is like his Thursday gallop.
“He looks well and has retained his condition really nicely. He goes into the race in good shape.”
Need I Say More has won four of his five starts, claiming the Gr.3 Northland Breeders’ Stakes (1200m) at Te Rapa and the Gr.2 James & Annie Sarten Memorial Stakes (1400m) at Te Rapa either side of his fourth placing in the Gr.2 Hawke’s Bay Guineas (1400m) at Hastings when he was trapped wide in running.
Opie Bosson, who has already won the 2000 Guineas seven times, will partner Need I Say More from barrier 10.
“He’ll have to go forward from the gate. He can lead or control the race from outside the leader,” Richards said.
“The only query for him is at a mile but the way he ran out 1400m at Te Rapa, I’d say he’s going to run out 1600m ok. The best time to try out the distance is against his own age group. He’ll be up handy and he’ll definitely give his supporters a good shout.”
Richards will also produce Pokuru’s Gift (NZ) (Rock n Pop), Equinox (NZ) (Exceed and Excel) and Summer Monsoon (Stratum) at Riccarton and Quattro Quinta (NZ) (Darci Brahma), Excitonic (NZ) (Savabeel), Keke Star (Shooting To Win), Burgundy Belle (NZ) (Burgundy) and Military Step (NZ) (Tavistock) at Te Rapa on Saturday.