Trainer Jo-Ann Gordon is prepared to give Sutherland the benefit of the doubt for his last start defeat and hoping home track advantage and testing underfoot conditions on Sunday can see the mercurial character back to his best.
He is a three-time winner at Ascot Park and more than capable of adding to his record when he steps out in the Wash Rite & Hyde Wairio Cup (2200m) with regular rider Krishna Mudhoo to again take the reins.
The son of Niagara was most recently successful on the course four runs back before an unplaced effort and then won the Wyndham Cup (2200m) before he was again out of the frame at his latest appearance.
“He’s an unusual horse, he’s either hot or he’s not and he was pretty disappointing at Riverton but he’s never gone a good race there so there’s obviously something about that track he doesn’t like,” Gordon said.
“He’s very moody but he is well and when he’s on his game he can really go on with it. He likes Invercargill and after the Wyndham Cup he was always heading to the Wairio Cup.
“It’s an even sort of race and I’ve always thought he was a heavy tracker so that’s not going to be any problem. Krishna gets on well with him and he’s a big horse and a lot stronger this year.”
Gordon will have a quartet of other runners, including last-start winners Villanella in the Wools Of NZ & Travellers Rest Handicap (2200m) and No Bouquet in the Southland Grain & Property Brokers Handicap (1400m).
Tavistock mare Villanelle posted her second career victory with a determined display over a middle distance at Riverton on Wednesday.
“I’m very happy with her and it’s just taken her a bit to get game fit. She found the line really nicely and I’m surprised how well she pulled up,” Gordon said.
“She’s very bright and I wouldn’t be surprised if she went another big race.”
No Bouquet broke her maiden at Riverton last month. It was an overdue success for the daughter of Telperion, who ran third in last season’s Listed Southland Guineas (1600m).
“It took her a long time to win that first race and she has come through it really well,” Gordon said.
“She’s really, really bright and ran third on a wet track at Invercargill in the Guineas. We’ve got options with her and she can go forward or sit back.”
Gordon has Ayappan set to make his first appearance in the Homestead Villa Motel & Majestic Float Maiden (1200m) after a lengthy absence.
“He’s well enough but it’s a big ask to start him fresh-up on a heavy track with no trials after two years,” she said.
“He’s just been extremely weak and I’ve kept throwing him out and then go and get him when I’ve got room. He was in last September and I did eight weeks with him, but he just felt so weak.
“He’s come back stronger but still looks very immature. I think this is about as good as it’s going to get so we’re going to press on with him, we can’t wait any longer.”
Gordon’s other representative is Bob Marlie, who will line up in the AB Lime & Southland Helicopters & Northern Southland Livestock Handicap (1600m).
The El Hermano gelding was unplaced at Riverton last time out when he raced fiercely back in the field.
“I can’t find anything wrong with the horse, he’s a lot better than that and we’ll just let him run along this time,” Gordon said.