Kiwi challengers in doubt

PUBLISHED : Thursday, 15 November, 2001, 12:00am
UPDATED : Thursday, 15 November, 2001, 12:00am

Next month's International meeting suffered its first blow yesterday with confirmation that Fritz, New Zealand's best male racehorse, will not come for the Hong Kong Sprint on December 16. And the Kiwi challenge could evaporate completely.

Ethereal's owners strongly suggested last night that the mare would not be running in Hong Kong. And informed sources said serious doubts continue to hang over Sunline. The pair are the two big-name entries from New Zealand.

Fritz's trainer, Neil Coulbeck, who is based at Leithfield, about 50 kilometres north of Christchurch, said the sprinter would not run due to travel difficulties. 'I have tried to get something organised for a direct flight from Christchurch to Melbourne, but it is not possible,' Coulbeck said.

'The horse would have to be taken on a 20-hour road trip to Auckland, then flown to Melbourne, then to Hong Kong through Sydney. It is just too much to ask of him.

'I guess I didn't really expect him to get an invitation, but if he holds form we could look at it for next year. Ideally, it is something he could do if we went to Melbourne during the spring and just kept him there to wait for transport to Hong Kong.'

Ethereal, the Melbourne and Caulfield Cup heroine invited for the Hong Kong Vase, looks unlikely to make the trip after comments from Peter Vela, who owns the mare with his brother Philip.

Vela told an Australian radio programme this week that while trainer Sheila Laxon was still keen to make the trip, the owners felt Ethereal was disadvantaged under the terms of the race. 'There are plenty of lovely races for her in Australia,' Vela told Melbourne's Sport 927. 'She's out in a paddock and it is unlikely that she will go to Hong Kong.'

The mare has been pencilled in for a light Sydney campaign early next year and is then set to be retired and mated with champion stallion Danehill.

Meanwhile, insiders in New Zealand continued to insist that Sunline, last year's Hong Kong Mile champion, would not be at Sha Tin on International day, although publicly connections refuse to rule out a bid.

Sunline is scheduled to run at Pukekohe, just outside Auckland, on Saturday week in the 1,400-metre race she used as a lead-up last year. Some press reports have suggested trainer Trevor McKee will not make any firm decision until after that race, but McKee said it was likely to come sooner. 'We are going to keep pursuing the Pukekohe race, but by this weekend I think we will also be able to make a final decision on Hong Kong,' McKee said.

The loss of all three horses would cut the New Zealand participation to zero and Australasia would be reliant on Falvelon and Century Kid in the Sprint and Shogun Lodge and Show A Heart in the Mile.