New Zealand trainer Shaune Ritchie admits he has to tread a fine line dealing with his capricious mare Zurella.
The talented four-year-old is the favourite for the Group Three Naturalism Stakes (2000m) at Caulfield on Saturday with a win giving her direct entry into the Caulfield Cup.
While Zurella has improved “remarkably” since her winter spell and first-up win at Flemington in the Group Two Let’s Elope Stakes (1400m) earlier this month, she always gives Ritchie nervous moments.
Zurella is consistently unruly before the start of every race, and Ritchie says he needs to find a mix between calming her down and preserving her precocious nature.
“I’d say a little bit of both,” Ritchie said.
“We’re always thinking of different ways to get her more relaxed.
“I certainly found that first-up this time she wasn’t sweating and she didn’t get herself in quite the mess she did at home.”
He has searched long and hard for the answer to Zurella’s state of mind but suspects in the end there simply isn’t one.
“We went down the hormonal trail for a while and tried to treat it that way, but I think 90 per cent of it is the make-up of the filly.”
Nevertheless, Ritchie is continuing to try to calm the mare with her expected step up in class imminent.
“When you get to this level of racing any little edge you can get is going to be important,” he said.
“Obviously we’re trying to think out a way to get her more relaxed pre-race birdcage.
“When we get her on the track she’s a thorough professional, particularly in the running of the race so it’s just that ten minutes in the birdcage that she tends to upset herself,” he said.
“Believe me, we’ve thought long and hard over how to fix it and even if we do it’s not going to go away – it’s part of the animal,” he said.
Zurella will have the experienced Craig Newitt aboard on Saturday and his instructions are simple but clear.
“Apart from the fact that I don’t like her to be bustled early, it doesn’t necessarily mean she has to be ridden in the back half of the field,” he said.
“Those are the only real instructions I’ll give someone like Craig.
“It’s tricky enough from gate 11 – obviously the important thing is not to be caught three-wide and Craig’s going to be acutely aware of that,” he said.