Te Akau Shark (Image: Race Images)
The Cox Plate (2040m) has been a long-held ambition for connections of dual Group winner Te Akau Shark but the Jamie Richards-trained runner is being set for another Group 1 target before he heads to Melbourne.
The four-year-old son of Rip Van Winkle drew gasps from the crowd when winning the G2 Coupland's Bakeries Mile (1600m) by six lengths in November and the exciting galloper is being set for a big spring.
Te Akau Shark was given a lengthy spell after pulling up with a few soreness issues after his Riccarton triumph and Te Akau principal David Ellis said his team is pleased with what they have seen since his return last month.
"We gave him a long spell through the summer and autumn," Ellis said.
"He had his first bit of three-quarter pace last Saturday morning and Jamie Richards is really happy with the way he is coming to hand.
"I think he has just matured and strengthened a little bit (since last year). I was over at the stable in Matamata on Monday and he certainly is a very happy horse and is hitting out pretty freely, which is the most important thing with him."
A large contingent of his owners hail from Sydney, including Cronulla Sharks captain Paul Gallen, and they will likely get a chance see their horse in action in the G1 Epsom Handicap (1600m) at Randwick in September.
"We would love to win a race like the Epsom on the way to the Cox Plate," Ellis said.
"It is a pretty exciting time. He is owned by a lot of the boys from the Cronulla Sharks in Sydney, so they are pretty excited that we are bringing him to Sydney first.
"I think he would be really well weighted in an Epsom Handicap. We would probably give him two runs before the Epsom and then straight from the Epsom into the Cox Plate."
Ellis believes Te Akau Shark is well suited to the month break between the two runs.
"He's a pretty clean-winded horse and doesn't seem to need a lot of work," he said. "When he won his last start he went five weeks between races, from 1400m to 1600m, and he seems to enjoy that."
Ellis purchased Te Akau Shark out of Lyndhurst Farm's 2016 New Zealand Bloodstock Ready to Run Sale draft for $230,000 and he has been impressed with the gelding from the very beginning.
"He has only been beaten once and he has shown a lot from day one," Ellis said.