Trainer Peter McKay has revealed that New Zealand Derby winner Puccini will be set for the Group 1 Cox Plate (2040m) during the 2014 Melbourne Spring Racing Carnival.
Puccini was the star three-year-old staying performer in New Zealand during the summer carnival, taking out the Group 2 Great North Guineas (1600m), Group 2 Waikato Guineas (2000m), Group 2 Avondale Guineas (2100m) and Group 1 New Zealand Derby (2400m), but was unable to replicate those results during the 2014 Sydney Autumn Racing Carnival.
The Encosta De Lago colt was given a questionable ride by jockey Michael Walker in the Group 1 Rosehill Guineas (2000m) on March 29 and he tired in the final stages to finish 12th before battling home bravely to finish fifth behind Criterion in the Group 1 Australian Derby (2400m) at Royal Randwick on April 12.
McKay remains confident that Puccini is good enough to win at the highest level of racing in Australia and told The Informant that the rising four-year-old will be included in the nominations for both the Group 1 Caulfield Cup (2400m) and the Cox Plate.
“He’ll probably start off at Ruakaka in late July or early August and that will tell us where he’s up to,” McKay said.
“If he takes a little while to come to hand we’ll consider a trial, but I’m pretty sure we won’t go to the first day at Hastings.
“I’d like to think he could run in the 1600 on the second day at Hastings, but then again, if the weather’s no good we’ll head straight to Aussie.”
“We still think his best distance is 1600 to 2000 metres and that means the Cox Plate, but if he’s looking more dour we could switch to the Caulfield Cup.”
Puccini went straight to the spelling paddock after returning to New Zealand following his Australian Derby defeat and McKay said that he believes the talented colt has taken plenty of benefit out of his stint away from the stable.
McKay said that Puccini enjoyed being in work during his three-year-old season and confirmed that he will give the Group 1 winner a long and gradual build-up before he returns to the races for his spring preparation.
“He spent the whole time out in the paddock apart from a couple of stormy nights when we boxed him and he really thrived, especially the last couple of weeks when he packed the beef on,” McKay said.
“He’s a horse who enjoys being in work but he’d had a big season and needed the time out.
“Bringing him back in now we’ll be able to give him a long build-up, but where he actually kicks off will depend on the weather and what the tracks are doing.”
Ocean Park gave New Zealand a victory in the Cox Plate, while Ethereal in 2001 was the last New Zealand-trained galloper to take out the Caulfield Cup.