Top New Zealand Group 1 perfomers King Mufhasa and Guiseppina are set to clash on their home turf in the Group 1 NZ$200,000 Makfi Challenge Stakes (1400m) at Hawke’s Bay, Hastings tomorrow before heading over to Australia for the remainder of the Spring.
Nine times Group 1 winner King Mufhasa is searching for back to back Challenge Stakes after defeating top weight for age performer Jimmy Choux in last year’s race and trainer Steve McKee is confident the eight year old will be in the finishing bunch.
And McKee will be making another trip across the Tasman searching for another Group 1 victory on Australian soil looking for his second win the Group 1 $400,000 David Jones Toorak Handicap (1600m) at Caulfield on October 13.
Co-trainers Stephen Ramsay and Julia Ritchie haven’t ruled out a return to Melbourne with the Group 1 $1m Patinack Farm Classic (1200m) down the Flemington straight on November 10 an option.
McKee is confident that King Mufhasa has another successful campaign at the highest level and his is ready to perform at his peak again.
“I could not be happier with the horse,” said McKee.
“He is eight but he doesn’t know that and he is running around like a two year old.”
“I am very happy with him, but like many other trainers I just hope the bad weather keeps away.”
King Mufhasa topped off his Challenge Stakes preparation with a solid gallop in between races at Ruakaka last week and regular rider Sam Spratt gave a glowing report.
Top Kiwi rider James McDonald has set up base in Sydney for the Spring but will return to New Zealand to partner Guiseppina at Hastings.
McDonald has been the regular rider for the six year old mare and was aboard when the pair took out the Group 1 NZ$300,000 J & N Berkett Telegraph Handicap (1200m) at Trentham on January 21.
McDonald is hoping to add Saturday’s Challenge Stakes to his thirteen Group 1 wins and is looking forward to the challenge of riding more Group 1 winners in the Spring after securing his first on Australian soil on Temple Of Boom in the Group 1 $350,000 The James Boag Galaxy (1100m) at Randwick on April 21.
“I believe the time is right to make the move,” McDonald said.
“My trips to Australia over the last year or so has prepared me well for a permanent relocation.”
“I’m excited about the upcoming spring carnival and the newest chapter of my career.”
Ramsey and Ritchie are pleased with the progress of Guiseppina facing up for her first start since finishing third to Veyron in the Group 1 NZ$200,000 Haunui Farm Classic (1600m) at Otaki on February 25.
“Touch wood she gets a good surface at Hawke’s Bay and she will be very competitive,” said Ramsey.
“If the weather keeps raining the way it is we night have to look at an option in Australia, maybe Melbourne down the straight six.”
“We couldn’t be happier with her at this stage, and she is a very, very happy horse,” co-trainer Ritchie added.
The Challenge Stakes has attracted a capacity field of eighteen including Group 1 placegetters He’s Remarkable and Ocean Park, both with Australian Spring plans on the agenda.