Ocean Park (NZ) takes another step towards the Group 1 Dubai Duty Free on March 30 when he lines up in the G1 New Zealand Stakes at Ellerslie on Saturday.
Last year’s Cox Plate winner will take on a field featuring six Group 1 winners and trainer Gary Hennessy is pleased with the way Ocean Park has come through his seasonal bow, when fourth in the Haunui WFA at Otaki a fortnight ago.
“On the Monday after the race, he was jumping out of his skin,” Hennessy said. “He sweated up at Otaki and that’s just freshness. He’d come to the end of it 50 metres out but he battled bravely to the line. He was taking on seasoned Group 1 horses and he derived great benefit from the run.”
Hennessy bought Ocean Park for $150,000 from Trelawney Stud at the 2010 NZB yearling sale for his Hong Kong-based partners Andrew Wong and Steve Yan. He has been in contact with Irish jockey Johnny Murtagh, who will partner Ocean Park in Dubai and in England, and passed on the positive news.
“Johnny rang me to see how he went first up and I told him I was extremely pleased with the horse. He couldn’t believe the time they ran for the mile (1:34.07s) and he even gave consideration to flying down to ride him on Saturday.”
Ocean Park (4h Thorn Park – Sayyida by Zabeel) will be partnered by Leith Innes on Saturday, replacing Lisa Allpress. “It’s no reflection on Lisa. I just didn’t want him to have to carry too much dead weight with 59kg and Leith is a heavier rider.”
With his charge installed a $2.80 favourite for the Ellerslie feature, Hennessy cautioned that Ocean Park’s campaign had squarely been focused around being ready to go in Dubai. “The fitness he will take out of the race is huge. We had the E-tracker on him this week and his work compared favourably to his work prior to the Cox Plate.”
Hennessy believes the 2000 metres of Ellerslie will hold Ocean Park in good stead as he prepares to tackle 1800 metres over the stiffer Meydan circuit with its three furlong straight. “He doesn’t fly out for another week and we haven’t got the road transport to deal with as we did when racing at Otaki, so that should help with his recovery.”
Among Ocean Park’s key rivals on Saturday are Nashville (Darci Brahma), Veyron (Thorn Park) and Better Than Ever (French Deputy), the trio who filled the first three placings at Otaki.
The New Zealand Stakes will be second favourite Veyron’s last start before he heads to Sydney, where his main aim will be the G1 Doncaster Handicap at Randwick on April 20.