Only a matter of days ago, trainer Kenny Rae had resigned himself to missing the Gr.1 Al Basti Equiworld Dubai New Zealand 2000 Guineas (1600m) with Zoltan (NZ) (Iffraaj) at Riccarton on Saturday week.
On Thursday at Ashburton, Rae will saddle the talented three-year-old in the Thank You Barneswood Farm 1200, the Iffraaj gelding on trial for a start for the Guineas after a remarkable couple of days of recovery.
Zoltan clipped heels turning for home in the Gr.3 Barneswood Farm Stakes (1400m) at Ashburton 10 days ago and hit the ground heavily in a fall that caused jockey Jason Laking to suffer concussion, broken ribs and a broken collarbone.
Talking to media on Saturday, Ruakaka trainer Rae said he had exercised Zoltan at Riccarton that morning but he had pulled up sore and wouldn’t be running in the 2000 Guineas.
“We worked him and he was sore but we iced his legs and bandaged him afterwards and used a magnetopulse machine on him and he seems fine now,” said Rae, who trains in partnership with his daughter Krystal Williams-Tuhoro.
“We’ve X-rayed his legs and we’ve had a vet look over him two days in a row and he’s passed their tests fine. Physically he seems fine but we just need to know whether we can push ahead to the Guineas or not.
“We’re not going to know till we race him again. We just need to see that he hasn’t lost confidence. His fitness is 100 percent and we know he’s got the ability but we just need to know how he is mentally.
“Jason said he was travelling that good coming from home last time that he made a mistake by thinking he could just get a run through them when in hindsight he thinks he should probably have just come around them. But the horse must be made of steel.”
A lack of confidence has never been an issue with Zoltan, a winner of two of his eight starts, including a defeat of Marine (NZ) (Ocean Park) in the Guineas Trial (1400m) at Riccarton earlier this month.
“He came down with Major Tom before the Winter Cup (Gr.3, 1600m) and I thought then this trip will either make him or break him. But he fronted up straight away,” Rae said.
“He has always shown ability but he hasn’t been an easy horse. He’s just so arrogant. He’s a half-brother to Sound Proposition (third in the Gr.1 New Zealand Derby, 2400m) so he should be able to stay too.”
Zoltan, who is at $26 with TAB bookmakers for the 2000 Guineas, will have stablemate Eva James (NZ) (Super Easy) as a race rival at Ashburton.
Also a winner of two of her eight starts, the Super Easy filly defeated Zoltan at Riccarton in August before unplaced runs in stakes company in her last two starts.
“I want to see her in front again. It was a rock hard track the other day and we rode her in the trail but she’s better in front. That’s her comfort zone. The faster she goes, the better she goes,” Rae said.
“She’ll have her tongue tied down for the first time tomorrow and we just hope that helps her too.”
Rae has ruled out a start for Eva James in the Gr.1 Barneswood Farm New Zealand 1000 Guineas (1600m) at Riccarton on November 14 but safely through Thursday’s race, she could contest the 1400m three-year-old race at Riccarton on November 11.
Rae should still have a feature runner on the 1000 Guineas programme with Major Tom (NZ) (Red Giant) using the Thank You Valachi Downs 2200 at Ashburton as his lead-up to the Gr.3 Christchurch Casino New Zealand Cup (3200m) that day.
“This will be his final run before the Cup. He’s going well but it won’t be easy tomorrow with the 62kg topweight and the wide draw. He seems on track but he’s going to be up against it,” Rae said.
“This fits nicely with two weeks’ gap into the Cup. He’s working like a real two-miler stayer now.”
Rae and Williams-Tuhoro will also produce Katchin Feelings (NZ) (Charm Spirit), On The Rivet (NZ) (Sweet Orange) and Our Prom King (NZ) (Shamexpress) at Ashburton, with stakes race aims of the Gr.3 Valachi Downs Canterbury Breeders Stakes (1400m) at Riccarton on November 11 for Irish Girl (NZ) (El Roca) and the Listed Frantic Bloodstock Welcome Stakes (1000m) for Follow Your Dreams (NZ) (Contributer) over Cup week.