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The $20,000 Kumara Gold Nuggets has had an emotional edge added to this year's edition, with Essential and Needastar running for two new owners.
Jockey Ashlee Mundy's fatal fall at Kurow on December 30 captured the attention of noted Matamata trainer John Sargent and owners John and Glenda Reily, who have offered Ashlee's mother, Cheryl, a share in the two Nuggets contenders, along with a share for Ashlee's estate.
Essential, a four-win Shinko King gelding owned by Sargent, has drawn barrier 14 for the 1810m open handicap, while Needastar, raced by Sargent and the Reilys, has drawn barrier seven.
Needastar is coming off a last-start ninth at Kurow, although that was over the shorter distance of 1400m. All four of his wins have come between 1500m and 2100m.
They could both be chasing former Auckland Cup winner Titch, who has drawn well in barrier five for trainer Kevin Myers. The winner of 17 of his 53 starts, Titch was last seen in Melbourne, running second in the Crisp Steeplechase in July. He will have to carry 60.5kg and - aside from Noble Warrior, who is carrying 59kg - he will be giving away at least 5kg to the rest of the field.
The other Myers runner, Negotiate, comes off a win in the Greymouth Cup (2000m) last Saturday.
The track was rated a slow (8) yesterday afternoon with rain forecast.