Jockey Chris Johnson will be at the top of the Oaks tree if he can win the Group I New Zealand Oaks at Trentham on Saturday.
The Canterbury rider will be seeking his fifth win in the Trentham classic when he partners favourite Savvy Coup in the $400,000 Al Basti Equiworld Dubai New Zealand Oaks (2400m).
Savvy Coup opened as a $3.40 favourite in final field betting on Wednesday, with Treasure, Contessa Vanessa and Milseain sharing the second line at $7.80.
Johnson is among a trio of jockeys who have recorded four wins in the Oaks since the race was transferred to Trentham, from Riccarton, in the 1973-74 season.
Johnson had four wins in the space of eight years in the 1990s, though it is 20 years since his last victory, on Tycoon Lil in 1998. More than half of his Group I wins have come at Trentham, where his other big wins include the Wellington Cup, Telegraph (twice), Captain Cooks Stakes (twice) and Thorndon Mile.
He has had three wins in the Listed Te Akau Racing Lightning Handicap, which is also among the five black-type races on Saturday’s programme.
Johnson has had three wins and a second from four mounts on Savvy Coup and the filly takes a strong formline into the last classic of the New Zealand season.
Savvy Coup won the Lawnmaster Eulogy Stakes at Awapuni in December, beating Dijon Bleu and Contessa Vanessa. Since then, she has finished a close third in the Group I Grant Plumbing Levin Classic at Trentham, behind Age Of Fire and Belle du Nord, run third to Scott Base and Embellish in the Karaka Million 3YO Classic at Ellerslie and easily won the Little Avondale Lowland Stakes (2100m) at Hastings, at her middle-distance debut.
She is among four fillies in the Oaks field by champion sire Savabeel and is trained at Riccarton by Michael and Matthew Pitman. Her owners include Ray Coupland who won the 2007 NZ Oaks with Princess Coup.
The Pitman partnership has already won three group races in the North Island this term, including the Group I Telegraph with Enzo’s Lad, and has six runners at Trentham.
A capacity field of 18 fillies accepted for the Oaks, with Cambridge trainer Tony Pike having three runners – Caricature, Treasure and Terra Sancta.
Thirteen of the Oaks acceptors went through a sale ring with the prices ranging from $3000 for Blanco Belle to $600,000 for Caricature, while four entrants – Hasahalo, Savvy Coup, Gold Spice and Mark Two – were bred by Waikato Stud.