Stephanie Bakranich, who will saddle up Playing Marika in Saturdays Group 3 Hyperion Stakes (1600m), admits the mare’s recent form has taken her by surprise.

Bakranich pinpointed two races for Playing Marika this campaign, but is glad she had a change of heart as it’s panned out better than she could have expected.

The seven-year-old has blossomed into a black-type performer after winning the Listed Grandstand Cup (1500m) which ended a stakes drought after five previous placings.

She then progressed to win the $100,000 Diggers Cup (1800m) before a close third to Jadavi in the $100,000 Tabtouch Stakes when tested for the first time at 2100m.

The only blotch on what has been an otherwise fruitful campaign was a 7th of 7 to Weapson second-up in the Old Comrade Stakes (1600m), beaten 3 ½ lengths at Ascot in April.

Bakranich says Playing Marika has been a genuine surprise packet and predicts further success.

With 57 races starts behind her and just a couple of months shy from being an eight-year-old, the daughter of Playing God has never raced any better.

“She’s been racing super well and this is definitely her best prep,” Bakranich said to The Races WA.

“She’s improved as she’s got older for sure.

“She’s had four runs back and three have been great, one was crappy.

“But I don’t think the way the race was run that it suited her.

“I hadn’t planned on her still racing now, I’m glad I did.

“I just picked out the Grandstand Cup and the Old Comrade.

“Even though she went bad in the Old Comrade, because she pulled up so well I thought there was no reason not to go to the Diggers Cup.

“I definitely didn’t have this race (Hyperion Stakes) picked out for her on Saturday.

“I can’t see any reason not to start her.”

If Bakranich needed any convincing then a rousing track gallop and a positive review from jockey Steven Parnham sealed her decision.

“When Steven rode her on Saturday he said to me, oh my god, this mare feels the best that she ever has,” Bakranich said.

“He was rapt with her work and said she feels so good, as good if not better than she has ever felt.

“She just seems to be getting better and better.”

Parnham has been a key ally in Playing Marika’s form resurgence, a regular partner in her past six starts.

But the hero will turn villain on Saturday with Parnham to ride classy three-year-old Bustler for his trainer-father, Neville Parnham.

“Steven rides her so well,” Bakranich said.

“There’s a real particular way to ride that mare.

“They have to hold her up and not go too early.

“It’s a bit unfortunate, but I totally understand why he is riding Bustler.”

Meanwhile Bakranich said Nerodio was closing in on a return after an Ascot Pinnacles campaign ended last November.

“He’s been working well and the Beaufine will be his first race,” Bakranich said.

“He’s ready to trial in a fortnight.”

The Beaufine Stakes (1000m), at Listed level, is run at Belmont on July 8.

Julio Santarelli