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Wheeler chases third New Zealand Cup win

17 November 2017, 1:09 p.m.

John Wheeler reckons he already has a photo of Pentathlon winning the New Zealand Cup on his wall at home.

Or near enough anyway.

That photo in the Hall of Fame trainer's New Plymouth home is of the 2006 New Zealand Cup, won by Pentathlon’s three-quarter brother Pentathon, a chestnut Pentire gelding ridden by Noel Harris.

Pentathlon (outside) Photo: Race Images

On Saturday, Pentathlon, also a chestnut son of Pentire, contests the Gr.3 Christchurch Casino New Zealand Cup (3200m) at Riccarton with Harris' son Troy booked to ride.

"They are clones of each other, those horses. I've got the photo of Pentathon winning at home so I won't need the photo if this horse wins on Saturday," said Wheeler, who also trained Waltermitty to win the 2004 New Zealand Cup.

Wheeler opted for the New Zealand Cup for Pentathlon after the six-year-old failed to win the Gr.3 Lexus Quality (2500m) at Flemington a fortnight ago in a last-ditch bid to seal a place in the Gr.1 Melbourne Cup (3200m).

Pentathlon went a much-improved race for third behind Cismontane and has returned to New Zealand rather than stay for Saturday's Listed Sandown Cup (3200m) because of the superior prizemoney.

"I didn't want to back him up in the Queen Elizabeth Stakes the week after the Lexus because that would have meant racing him Saturday-Saturday-Saturday and the Sandown Cup was only worth $150,000, $100,000 less than the New Zealand Cup, so we've brought him home," Wheeler said.

"He flew to Auckland and spent two days with Stephen McKee and then he flew to Christchurch. He's travelled brilliantly, hasn't turned a hair."

That's good news for Pentathlon supporters, especially after his travel to Melbourne didn't go so well.

"He picked up a bug on the flight to Melbourne, probably viral rather than bacterial but he had a bit of residue in his lungs,” Wheeler said.

"I had him right for the Lexus, but he had missed a bit of work and it cost him the win. He peaked with 50m to go, but he was still taking ground off the winner. He had made up six lengths from the 400m to the 200m, but then only took a length of him in the last 200m."

While Pentathlon didn't contest the Melbourne Cup, Wheeler can take heart from a past result of a stayer making the trip back from Melbourne for the New Zealand Cup.

Empire Rose won the 1987 edition after finishing second to Kensei at Flemington.

Pentathlon won on both the first and middle days of the 2015 New Zealand Cup carnival and Wheeler is confident he could finish his sweep of the three meetings on Saturday.

"He should be too good for those horses so long as he doesn't get any bad luck. It's not an ideal alley [barrier 11 of 12] but he can race anywhere."

Wheeler, who also has first-day runner-up Vencedora in action on Saturday, said Pentathlon would have a brief spell before a likely tilt at the Gr.3 Wallaceville Estate Wellington Cup (3200m) at Trentham on January 20.

He has ruled out a Sydney Cup campaign in autumn but confirmed the 2018 Melbourne Cup was Pentathlon’s long-range target. – NZ Racing Desk.