IN Racing
Autridge fillies bang on for Oaks quest
“To win it, that would be right up there with everything I’ve done as a trainer.”
Jess de Lautour, LOVERACING.NZ News Desk | March 14, 2024
Stephen Autridge will prepare Livid Sky and Still Bangon in this Saturday’s Gr.1 Al Basti Equiworld New Zealand Oaks (2400m) at Trentham. Photo: Kenton Wright (Race Images)

Stephen Autridge has triumphed in many of New Zealand’s most iconic races, and the Matamata horseman would rate a victory in Saturday’s Gr.1 Al Basti Equiworld New Zealand Oaks (2400m) among the headliners.

Autridge, a former Group One-winning jockey, has accumulated 98 domestic stakes victories as trainer, with periods at the helm of Te Akau Racing, a stint training Kevin Hickman’s Valachi Racing stable, and also trained in partnership for a time with Graeme Rogerson.

Over recent seasons, Autridge has downsized his operation, focusing on a more select team of 15 gallopers, and among them has emerged two leading hopes for the time-honoured fillies’ feature in Still Bangon and Livid Sky.

A daughter of last year’s Oaks-winning sire Satono Aladdin, Still Bangon has been a model of consistency this season, her record boasting a tough victory in the Gr.3 Eulogy Stakes (1600m) before finishing second in the Gr.2 Sir Patrick Hogan Stakes (2050m) on New Year’s Day.

The filly’s campaign was blemished slightly when finishing back in the field in the Gr.2 David & Karyn Ellis Fillies’ Classic (2000m) at Te Rapa last month, a performance rectified with a scorching finish from near-last to third in the Gr.3 Sunline Vase (2100m), earning her place alongside stablemate Livid Sky in the Oaks field a fortnight later.

“She (Still Bangon) was outstanding at Ellerslie, her sectionals said that, and she’s come through it really well,” Autridge said.

Proisir filly Livid Sky has followed suit with repeatedly solid raceday efforts, with her five black-type starts on the bounce this campaign including a pair of thirds and fourths behind the likes of Orchestral and Molly Bloom, alongside a strong last-start sixth in the Sunline Vase.

“Initially, I thought Livid Sky was a little bit disappointing in the Sunline Vase, but Sam Weatherley (jockey) told us it was a really good run, and her sectionals would reflect that,” Autridge said.

“They ended up being pretty much second best of the race behind Still Bangon, so we’ve got to be happy going forward.”

A step-up to the 2400m distance now beckons the pair, and Autridge is optimistic after the barrier draws revealed gates four (Livid Sky) and nine (Still Bangon), with Weatherley and Matt Cameron taking the respective rides.

“When the sectionals say they’re just about first and second-best going 2100m, you’ve got to be quite confident they can run out the extra 300m. We believe they’re a big chance of doing that,” Autridge said.

“For these two horses, they’re very good draws, they haven’t had many good draws between them, so we certainly aren’t complaining.

“From the better draws they should be able to race a bit closer, hopefully around midfield which would be ideal, they usually race near last.

“I’ve had a few Oaks runners and you need luck in the running. It’s usually a pretty roughly run race, so let’s hope they stay out of trouble.”

Still Bangon is currently rated a $4.80 second-favourite for the Oaks, while her stablemate lies an equal-fourth fancy at $8.50, but according to Autridge, the contrasting fillies enter on equal terms for their grand final.

“Their personalities have always been quite different, Still Bangon is a lovely, kind filly, but Livid Sky was very erratic and strong-willed to start with. She is coming around to it now though,” he said.

“At the end of the day, I can’t split them.

“This is their grand final, they’ve done a great job this season and have been in a while. They’ve raced well every time they’ve gone out and I think they’re going into the Oaks at 100 percent. I’d hate to be saying they’re doing anything afterwards, other than going to the paddock.”

Autridge hopes to take one step closer to the elusive century of stakes winners on Saturday and indicated that an Oaks win would rank alongside any of his major crowns in New Zealand and Australia.

“At the moment, with now only having 15 in work in a small stable, having two fillies in the Oaks is great to start with,” he said.

“To win it, that would be right up there with everything I’ve done as a trainer.”