Like any trainer who has a runner engaged in a major race, Nikki Blatch has a few frayed nerves on the eve of what could be a career defining moment.
Nikki and husband Barrie will line-up the well-favoured Mr Intelligence in Saturday’s Gr.3 Martin Collins New Zealand Cup (3200m) at Riccarton off the back of an impressive victory in last weeks’ Listed Metropolitan Trophy (2500m).
Blatch, who has just five horses currently in work at the couple’s Tapanui property, had thought that win would take some of the pressure off this week but admits that hasn’t been the case.
“Honestly I’m trying not to think about all that is involved and quite frankly, I will be pleased when it is all over,” she said.
“We had thought if he (Mr Intelligence) could win on the first day then this week would be a bit of a breeze, but it hasn’t turned out that way.
“Despite all that we’re absolutely stoked with the horse, he has really done well in the days after the race and he goes into Saturday with as good a chance as any.”
Bred by Gordon Cunningham, Mr Intelligence will again have to carry the topweight of 59kgs that he won with last week and is faced by a wide barrier draw (18), but that is not the main concern for Blatch.
“He carries weight well and is such a tractable and versatile horse that I don’t think the barrier will worry him,” she said.
“He is the kind of horse that you can hunt out to find a position, then put him to sleep and he will just lob along until you ask him for an effort.
“My main concern is that there is some rain forecast and that’s not what we want.
“He has won on all sorts of track conditions, but when it is wet he just tends to grind away, whereas when it is dry, he can really let down and sprint hard.
“The distance is also a question, but only as he has never tried it before, although the way he won over 2500m last time suggests he will get the two miles just fine.”
Should Mr Intelligence go on to win the 158th running of the historic race it will make an impulse decision made by Blatch’s husband to purchase the horse from the gavelhouse.com website out of Curraghmore's draft a stroke of genius.
“I’m always looking on gavelhouse to see what horses are on offer and I saw this guy there as he had been withdrawn from the Ready To Run Sale that year (2017),” she said.
“I mentioned to Barrie that he looked like just the type of horse we should get, but he would probably be too expensive.
“I went out into the garden and was mucking around when Barrie came out and said, ‘oops I think I just bought us that horse’.
“He put in one bid of $4,750 thinking he would get blown out of the water and it was the winning bid.
“I was stunned as I always do my homework before we purchase and I hadn’t made a single call about the horse.
“When he arrived at our place, he was a lovely individual, but you just knew he was going to need time.
“He’s now won six races and over $134,000 for us, so it was definitely a very good idea to place that bid.”
While Barrie has been busy back at home this week, Nikki has been staying with Mr Intelligence and impressive first-day maiden winner Leroy at a quiet property outside of Christchurch.
“It is a six to seven-hour trip from home, so it makes sense that we stay up here,” she said.
“We are at a lovely property out near Prebbleton and it is like a home away from home for the horses, who are just thriving.
“It has been the making of Leroy who has really grown up on this trip.
“Win, lose or draw on Saturday we will just be trying to take it all in and just having a runner in the big race is a tremendous thrill.
“We took Leroy’s mother to Trentham on Wellington Cup day once and she won and paid $108.
“That was like winning the Melbourne Cup for us, so I can only imagine what it might be like if we managed to win the New Zealand Cup.
“Training started off as a bit of a hobby and slowly turned into a fulltime occupation and this would definitely be the biggest moment for us both if we could pull this one off.” – NZ Racing Desk