Kiwi Encosta Star Returns to Best

The Cox Plate dream might not have eventuated for New Zealand Derby winner Puccini (4h Encosta de Lago x Miss Opera, by Pairs Opera), but he gained compensation with a stylish win in the Group III TBS Thompson Handicap at Trentham in New Zealand in Saturday.

“Right day, wrong course,” said co-trainer Jacob McKay, who prepares the four-year-old at Matamata with his father Peter. “Things didn’t pan out for us to get to Melbourne.”

Puccini was on the right track when he won the Group III Merial Mile at Awapuni, but Moonee Valley aspirations were derailed after the horse raced too fiercely when unplaced in the Group I Spring Classic at Hastings.

“We gave him a few quiet days after that until we got all the test results to make sure everything was 100 per cent,” McKay said.

Puccini subsequently trialled at Te Awamutu, after which the decision was made to pursue domestic targets rather chase Australian riches.

“We wanted him to get his confidence back and this is fantastic,” McKay said.

Retained by his breeders Paul and Cushla Smithie of Monovale Farm, Puccini has the overall record is now seven wins and four placings from 20 starts.

One of over 100 stakes-winners for champion sire Encosta de Lago, Puccini is one of six winners from six foals to race from stakes-winning Paris Opera mare Miss Opera.

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