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By Jack Petley | Friday, January 1, 2021

There is some very interesting racing kicking off the new year in New Zealand today where the New Year’s Day meeting at Ellerslie features six Group races headed by the Group 1 Railway. Supporting the main act are four Group 2 races (the Eclipse Stakes, the Valachi Downs Royal Stakes, the Auckland Guineas and the Rich Hill Mile. The Auckland Cup is the Group 3 event on the card. Jack Petley gives his thoughts on the upcoming action.

On the first day of the Auckland meeting at Ellerslie Jamie Richards and Te Akau walked away with six winners and in what Richards described as a day "out of the ordinary." And looking at the fields today the stable is poised for yet another boomer of a day.

In Race 3 the stable will produce Avonallo, Sword of State and Imperatriz in the Gr2 Eclipse Stakes. Sword of State is the warm favourite at $2.15 after his dashing debut win. Imperatriz also won at debut after a slow beginning and Avonallo has two seconds and a win, in the Listed Welcome Stakes. "Avonallo is on an upward spiral after returning from the South Island," said Richards of the colt by Belardo with the Karaka Million in his sights. "He hasn't had a trial, so he is open for improvement," Sword of State looks the one for me, with Bosson up, and a chance. at odds is Stormy, the mount of Lisa Allpress.

And while talking about Lisa she was recognised in the New Year’s honours list with an Officer of the New Zealand Order of Merit. "I am really humbled by this," said the wonderfully gifted jockey. Allpress is four times National Champion Jockey in NZ and has 1628 winners top her credit and six Group one wins … and she has also shone overseas having ridden in Hong Kong Macau, Japan, Singapore and Australia. But for all her feats in those countries it was a trip to Saudi Arabia early this year which she counts as having topped all that. She was successful in her first ride at the Saudi Cup Carnival. "Competing against Frankie Dettori, Ryan Moore and other top international jockeys and to win, that was a dream come true. Allpress (45) will be hard at work at Ellerslie today, like she always is, and she has a solid book of seven rides.

Richards has Illusion of Paris in Race 4, the Gr 2 Valachi Downs Royal Stakes but the filly, said Richards may have her work “cut out." and is at $13 in the market. "I think she is a promising staying filly," He said adding the horse to beat is Fleetwood Macca, the mount of Andrew Calder and second favourite at $4 behind the very smart and in form mount of Allpress, Il Affare ($3.90). "Fleetwood Macca was great behind my filly Amarelinha the other day and, if she backs up well, she is the one to beat," said Richards. But there is a colt in this race with a boom tag, Khufu for Tony Pike. The debut runner has opened up hot at $1.95 with the son of American Pharoah having had three trials for two wins, most recently a trial at Cambridge over 800 metres which he won by just over 8 lengths. "He is having his first race against a hot field," said Pike.

Pike also has a solid team for the meeting including Tellall in the Gr 2 Guineas, a winner of three from three this campaign and favourite at $2.30 ahead of the Cooksley-Wallace runner, Jason Belltree, $3.30. "I will be disappointed if he doesn't run well," said Pike who has the Levin Stakes next on the radar for the three-year-old.

Richards will saddle up the favourite for the Gr 2 Rich Hill Mile, Race 7, with Prise de Fer (OPB) who sits at $3.70 in the market with main rivals I see, Coventina Bay ($4.80) and Pierina ($9). "He has drawn well and is very well," said Richards of Prise De Fer. “He is going to have to be at his very best though with his big weight (60kgs).

In the Gr 3 City of Auckland Cup the Te Akau colours will be carried by In A Twnkling, Te Akau Caliburn and Savy Young Blonk with the latter, a mare by Savabeel, the favourite at $3.40 with Daniel Johnson up and with In A Twinkling at $5 for Bosson. In a Twinkling is going well" said Richards." I am pleased with the way he has bounced back since the Zabeel," but he told the NZ Racing Desk, "Savy Yong Blonk has been set for this race. She appears to be coming along nicely since the Waikato Cup."

And then for the stable there is that brilliant sprinter Avantage ($2.90) in the Gr1 Railway Handicap and headed for what looks like a clash with the very Smart Team Kelso mare Levante. Avantage will be going for a fifth elite level victory and Richards says the daughter of Fastnet Rock may just be a bit vulnerable first up. "I am pleased with her, though," he told the Racing Desk.

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