Friday the 5th of May marks the inaugural running of the Northern Trotting Oaks for three-year-old fillies.
The trotters have really put their hand up this season across the grades, and the lack of three-year-old opportunities for fillies in their own sex (particularly the Jewels) means the race definitely has its place on the calendar.
Compared to its southern counterpart (New Zealand Trotting Oaks – 19 nominations, 14 starters) the race has drawn a field of 6 runners for the $25,000 mobile trot over 2200m.
The race was designed to give trotting fillies an opportunity to earn black type against their own sex.
How we get them to line up is another matter when a dominant filly such as Chevron Express has undoubtedly kept a few away after staying in the North Island having been eligible for the Sires Stakes Trot a week before the Derby.
Which, among other things, begs the question, did the timing of the Northern Trotting Oaks robbed the Northern Derby of a few more starters?
As highlighted by Handicapper Andrew Morris, Chevrons Express would have more than likely lined up in the Group 1 Derby last week had there not been a softer target waiting for her a week later.
Is there an issue with the date?
The alternatives appear to be the Derby carnival at Auckland which this year was run 3 weeks before (March 10th) the New Zealand Trotting Oaks (March 31st ) with the NZ Derby run a week later at Addington (7th April).
This potentially makes more sense with the opportunity to run a fillies and mares mobile over 1700m as a lead up race to the Oaks, giving connections of fillies two bites at the cherry up north so to speak.
Gavin Smith said he would have definitely taken Di’z Luck up if she had a second race to target outside of the Derby but felt it was a bridge too far for a single race.
“I really wanted to support the race and had discussed it with the owners but felt she wasn’t going well enough to spend the money getting up there to risk galloping and receiving also ran money. Would definitely have gone if there was a lead up race”, said Smith.
On the back of a successful Rowe Cup Carnival where trotters reigned supreme, Auckland Racing Club manager Regan Cotter agreed that “while it was disappointing to only get six nominations, we had to start somewhere and the Racing Committee definitely wouldn’t be opposed to looking at the dates for next year. Fillies and mares racing is high on the agenda and the Racing Committee would definitely consider the lead up race, particularly if it meant more South Island fillies would travel.”
Michelle Hackett said that while her charge was likely to be outclassed, she understood the importance of supporting the race.
“My owners are just thrilled to have a horse running in the field and given my association with the trotters and lack of opportunities for the fillies up North, just wanted to support the race. We would have had a second runner had she not suffered a setback.”
Three 3YO trotting fillies will race earlier in the night in the up to R56 trot for an $8000 stake. This suggests what we are seeing in this year’s three-year-old pacing crop is ringing true in trotting that some connections are just unwilling to tackle superior opposition, even when the money is up.
The only group race for trotting mares (Northern Breeders Stakes) is also held in Auckland despite having the smallest pool of mares.
The race attracted eight mares and one must wonder whether the $25,000 stake is not enough to the travel when not a single South Island mare made the trip. Would a stake of $40,000 be enough to entice a Canterbury trainer for the trotting Oaks and Northern Breeders?
“Absolutely”, said Kevin Townley.
“Trotting fillies have had one race for the entire season in New Zealand and there should have at the very least been a lead up race for the New Zealand Oaks, if not another race for them after!”
The Northern Trotting Oaks was never going to get $40,000 in year one but an increased stake would obviously ease the burden of a trek north.
“It was going to cost me $3000 at least to take two fillies north to run third behind Chevron Express and Regal Love. At $25,000 for the stake, I’m not covering any costs”, said Townley.
In recent times programming hasn’t been the issue.
Addington have this week given connections of trotting fillies and mares the opportunity to race in their own sex, and have been let down slightly with only nine nominating up to R62 trot over 1950m.
On the 21st April, the Addington lower grade trot was split between fillies and mares, colts and geldings leaving a field of 10 fillies and mares. A good start.
Brian Rabbitt of the NZ Metropolitan Club said he was disappointed by the support of this week’s race after listening to feedback suggesting Addington need to programme more races for the trotting girls. A field of nine starts this Friday’s programme.
The two-year-old trotters have been a revelation this year, with full fields of baby square-gaiters who are by in large defying their age and maturity by doing what they are bred to do. That being trot!
Aoraki and Renezmae have been flying the flag for the fillies and measuring up to the boys and beating them, but outside of the pair the girls have been outpointed by the colts and geldings.
As the breed continues to improve, so too will the opportunities.
But the races programmed need the support of trainers and their owners to ensure they aren’t a flash in the pan at a time when clubs and administrators are sitting up and taking notice of the trotting gait and their role in the industry!