Popular Wagga galloper Zakeriz will look to add the Orange Cup (2100m) to his stellar resume on Friday, with Chris Hardy setting the eight-year-old for the $75,000 feature event.
The Zariz gelding bloomed later in life, and as a rising six-year-old, he quickly strung together three wins on the trot, going from maiden status to a Highway Handicap victory at Rosehill Gardens in July 2020.
In late 2021, his excellent run of results continued, with wins in the Cootamundra Cup and Queanbeyan Cup before taking out the Ted Ryder Cup Prelude at Wagga.
A fall in the 2022 Albury Mile halted his impeccable form. Still, he has since returned stylishly, emerging victorious at Canterbury late last year, while at his previous start, he bounced back in the Albury Mile, this time taking out the $50,000 feature event.
“I thought it was a pretty good win,” Hardy said.
“I was pleased with it for sure, and it made up for last year’s effort.”
Friday’s Orange Cup is a qualifier for the $2 million Big Dance and $500,000 Little Dance, but that isn’t the reason Hardy is venturing to the Central Districts, with the Wagga trainer explaining that he had next month’s $200,000 Wagga Wagga Gold Cup in the back of his mind.
“We’re hoping to get to the Wagga Cup, and there are no guarantees in racing, but I thought the 2100m would be a good lead-up to the Wagga Cup if he is good enough,” Hardy said.
“We would have gone to Gundagai (on Sunday), but he probably gets 65.5kg at Gundagai, and it’s a better weight at Orange, although it is a hard race too.
“Still, we’ve got to take them on, especially if you can’t race at home.”
Molly Bourke has enjoyed much success on Zakeriz, including the pair’s last-start win in the Albury Mile, and Hardy has stuck by the talented apprentice.
“I guess the big thing is, Molly started riding here with George Dimitropoulos, and when she first started riding him, I knew she could claim, and Zakeriz was fairly well up in Benchmark,” Hardy said.
“He was her first city win, and the old saying goes, if it isn’t broke, don’t fix it.
“She has really come on and is turning into a good jockey.”
Bourke and Zakeriz will be up against it, coming up against 2022 Orange Cup runner-up Ita from the Bjorn Baker yard, along with handy city and provincial gallopers Cognac (Richard and Will Freedman), Outlandos (John Sargent), and Mayfair Spirit (Ciaron Maher and David Eustace).
There will also be regular Country Cup performers Kiptanui (Matthew Dale), Marsabit (Danny Williams), Wild Rocket (Kylie Kennedy), and Reward Seeker (Michael Mulholland), and regardless of how Zakeriz goes, Hardy will be proud of his old stager.
“I think he is a pretty good horse, and he is no champion, but he is my champ,” Hardy said.
“I am very proud of him; he’s been a good old horse for us.”
All roads lead to Orange
The Orange Cup is one of the premier races in the Central and Western Districts. The $75,000 event attracts the best of the West and many provincial and metropolitan gallopers.
In 2022, the Bjorn Baker-trained Shameonus (Ash Morgan, $5.10) pulled away for a comfortable win from stablemate Ita ($3.80) for jockey Lee Magorrian, while in third was Picaro ($5.10) for Gary Portelli and jockey Reece Jones.
This year, the meeting will be well-supported both on and off the track, and the festivities kick off on Thursday night, with the Orange Cup calcutta to be held at the Parkview Hotel, commencing at 6.30 pm.
On Friday, gates open at noon, with the eight-race program to be complemented by the Cosmedic Collective fashions on the field, while there will be the Coopers Brewing beer-tasting tent.
Entry is $15, there is a courtesy bus running, and for more on the race day, click here.