An opportunity to race on a better surface has convinced Matamata trainers Graham Richardson and Rogan Norvall to head north on a rare excursion to Ruakaka this weekend.
The Matamata stable has only had eight runners at Ruakaka over the past three seasons but the prospect of racing on decent winter footing has seen a team of four heading north for Saturday’s meeting.
Spearheading the Richardson-Norvall contingent is evergreen galloper Paisley Park (NZ) (Azamour), who will tackle the Marsden Metals Group Bream Bay Sprint (1400m) as a possible precursor to a Group One target in the spring.
The Azamour eight-year-old gelding finished third at Pukekohe last month on Heavy 10 conditions in his first run in nearly three months and with Ruakaka rated a Soft 6 on Thursday, Richardson was looking forward to him racing on better footing.
“I was absolutely rapt with him at Pukekohe. He just wanted a better track,” Richardson said.
“He’s won and been placed on a heavy track but these tracks at the moment just aren’t suiting him. It’s nobody’s fault but it’s ridiculous how wet it is everywhere.
“It’s going to suit him a lot better up there. Ruakaka is probably one of the best tracks in New Zealand at the moment.”
A stable favourite despite his quirks, Paisley Park has won eight of his 51 starts, including three of his five starts at 1400m.
“He’s done us proud. He’s won a Matamata Cup, won the Listed Kaimai Stakes and a Dunstan Final. He’s just so genuine,” Richardson said.
“His 1400m record is really good and people probably don’t realise that. He’s won from 1400m to 2200m, the distance he won the Dunstan Stayers Final over. It takes a good horse to win that race with 60 kilos on their back.
“Second-up, 1400m might be a bit too short for him but I’ve done next to nothing with him since Pukekohe. He’s got a trip away and he’s got a good rider (Warren Kennedy) on board and he’s okay at the weights with 58.5 kilos on his back. I thought he might have ended up with 60.”
While his racing record has helped endear himself to stable staff, it was Paisley Park’s unique personality that made him such a favourite, Richardson said.
“He’s a character. He’s just so different to other horses. Some days he’s your best mate, other days he just doesn’t want to know you. He’s like a grumpy old man but he’s been like that since he was a young horse,” Richardson said.
“But he’s still a really kind horse. He’s tough and genuine and tries really hard. He’s had a few little issues, not serious ones but enough to set him back a bit over the years. When he has gone badly, there’s always been a reason. He’s had a lot of bad luck in a few of his races too.
“He’ll just keep ticking over through the winter. He’ll be nominated for the Livamol Classic (Gr.1, 2040m) but we’re definitely looking at the Matamata Cup (Listed, 1600m) in October, that’s for sure.”
Richardson and Norvall have the unbeaten Snazzytavi (NZ) (Tavistock), Rustic (NZ) (Redwood) and Able White (Headwater) accepted for Ruakaka.
“Snazzytavi is a lovely animal. Her mother was a good staying mare. She won by more than five lengths at Rotorua first-up but she just needed time out so we put her aside,” Richardson said.
“We’ve been held up with her coming back with a stone bruise but a trip away to Ruakaka will do her the world of good. We’ll just take our time with her and go through the grades. The 1200m might be a little bit short for her but it’s a nice race to kick her away.
“It’s a shame Rustic has been balloted. He’s run second up there and he can really gallop but his last two unplaced runs have been on tracks too heavy for him.
“Able White really tries and he’ll win another race very soon. He’s the sort of horse that needs a better track so it suits him getting up there too.”
Meanwhile, Richardson and Norvall are looking forward to welcoming back Group One winner Defibrillate (NZ) (Shocking) and Group One performer Bonny Lass (NZ) (Super Easy) into the stable in the near future, the pair currently in pre-training, Bonny Lass at Karioitahi Beach and Defibrillate in Matamata.