Te Akau Shark (Image: Race Images)
A bigger, stronger and potentially faster Te Akau Shark is cruising in his comeback preparation but remains at the mercy of the weather as connections consider an Australian spring assault.
The rising five-year-old has claims to being New Zealand's best horse but his career has been held back to just six starts by a string of immaturity problems, which have so far halted his return to racing in 2019.
Trainer Jamie Richards said that Te Akau Shark's spring could be dictated by track conditions, with the team leaning towards the $1 million Epsom Handicap at Randwick in the first week of October being the initial Group 1 target in Australia before he comes to Melbourne for the Cox Plate.
"We are just mindful that the horse does appreciate some give in the ground," Richards said on Wednesday morning.
"He can probably handle a run or two on better tracks but he's certainly not the horse that will be racing on a firm track every second week.
"He's still a bit of a day-to-day proposition. He's obviously had a few immaturity issues in the past and we are mindful of that so we'll just see how he trials up and go from there.
"I think if we space his races and look after him, there should be no troubles there. We've just got to take him along nice and quietly."
Te Akau Shark, a winner of five of his six starts who leading jockey Opie Bosson said was potentially the best horse he has ridden, came back into work in New Zealand four weeks ago with stablemate and fellow Cox Plate aspirant Melody Belle.
The horse's autumn was shelved when he failed to find his form, but Richards said the horse has done some growing up in his time in the paddock.
"He was 590 kilos when he came back in, so he's a pretty big horse now," he said.
"There was nothing that you can really pin-point (in the autumn) but he went off the boil a little bit and he's done that to us a couple of times, so we've just got to space his races and look after him."
Richards said the Te Akau Shark will race where the conditions suit best.
"There's usually a bit of rain up there in Sydney," he said.
"We've spoken about the Epsom and probably making that his target up to a mile and then assess things from there."
Then it's off to Melbourne for the Cox Plate three weeks later. Te Akau Shark has never been beyond 1600 metres, but Richards said the distance of the Cox Plate - 2040m - is hardly a concern.
"He's by Rip Van Winkle, who is a staying stallion, out of a stout New Zealand family, so I don't think 2000 metres should be a problem," he said.
Richards said he was confident the horse's motor was still there but that the team will know more in the coming weeks.
"He's done a month back in the stable," he said. "He did three weeks up at the beach and he's coming up well. He's ready to trial mid-July and then assess our options.
"Everything is still on the table at this stage."