Matamata trainers Darryn and Briar Weatherley will head to Pukekohe on New Year’s Day with three live lightweight chances in Group races.
Dual stakes winner Maria Farina will carry 54kg under the set weights and penalties conditions of the Gr.1 Sistema Railway (1200m), Ess Vee Are has the equal bottom weight of 53kg in the Gr.3 Queen Elizabeth II Cup (2400m), while his half-brother Arby will carry just 52kg in the Gr.2 Rich Hill Mile (1600m).
Maria Farina has won twice at black-type level within the last nine months, capturing the Listed Lightning Handicap (1200m) at Trentham in March and adding the Gr.3 Stewards’ Stakes (1200m) with a brilliant late burst at Riccarton on November 18.
That was the most recent raceday appearance for the six-year-old Contributer mare, who has pleased Darryn Weatherley with her progress in the six weeks since. However, Weatherley is less optimistic about the Pukekohe track, which was rated a Soft7 on Saturday afternoon.
“Maria Farina is really bright and well,” he said. “If we were running on a Good4 track on New Year’s Day, I would be liking our chances in the Railway. Unfortunately, that’s not going to be the case.
“She’s run a few times on rain-affected ground in her career and has been a bit of a duff, so that’s not filling us with confidence. It’s a big concern.”
Four of Maria Farina’s six career wins have come on Good tracks. She has won once on synthetic, while her Lightning Handicap success came on an improving Soft7 track at Trentham where the time was 1:09.69 for 1200m.
She has picked up just one third placing from her other five starts on soft ground, and she was unplaced in her only attempt on heavy.
Stablemate Ess Vee Are failed to fire in two starts in Victoria in September, but he made an encouraging return with a big finish from third-last to be runner-up in a 2100m open handicap at Pukekohe on December 9. That race was won by Terra Mitica, who is again among his opposition in Monday’s Queen Elizabeth II Cup.
“He’d gone quite some time between runs since getting back from his Australian campaign, so we were really happy with that performance at Pukekohe,” Weatherley said. “He was helped by a strong tempo in the race, which he may not necessarily get again in that small field on Monday. But he found the line very well and has gone the right way since then.”
The step up to 2400m holds no fears for Ess Vee Are, who was a winner over 2600m in the Listed New Zealand St Leger in March.
Arby is moving up into open class after an eye-catching second in Rating 75 grade on December 9. The four-year-old was blocked in the straight that day before flashing home into second, a short neck behind Flamebird. The highly rated Adam I Am was just behind him in third.
“Without taking anything away from the winner, Arby was probably unlucky not to win that race,” Weatherley said. “It was a performance that proved to us that he deserves a shot at a good race like the Rich Hill Mile.
“He’s a big horse, almost 600 kilos, so he’s barely going to notice Ashvin (Goindasamy) on his back with 52kg. We think he could be a nice lightweight chance.”
Arby will attempt to deliver a second Rich Hill Mile title in three years for the Weatherleys, who won the race with Mali Ston in 2022.