Work with horses has taken Chris Rutten from Lord Of The Rings to multiple Karaka Million race success
Chris Rutten seemed somewhat surprised I wanted to interview him. You sensed he wouldn’t want to be seen to be blowing his own trumpet.
He doesn’t have to. His extraordinary success with a handful of yearling selections, exclusively from Karaka, in recent years says it all. The Te Horo-based horseman, to now, has never bought more than two or three yearlings per year; never spent ‘big’ money and never looked at a catalogue page before he’s looked at the horse.
Last Saturday’s Karaka Million 3YO Classic winner, Scott Base, was one of his three purchases in 2016. He bought the Dalghar gelding for just NZ$70,000 at the New Zealand Bloodstock Select Yearling Sale. The three-year-old, who races in partnership with John Norwood and John and Joanna Frew, has now earned NZ$581,875.
That year, he bought another Dalghar for NZ$60,000 (at the Festival sale) and on-sold him for NZ$280,000 at the Ready to Run sale. His one other acquisition that year was a NZ$60,000 Nicconi colt now named Seduttore who won on debut last November.
Rutten’s spent a lifetime with horses but, in one sense, this story begins in 2013 when John Norwood – whose father Sir Walter Norwood owned the the 1971 Melbourne Cup winner Silver Knight – approached him to buy a horse capable of winning the Karaka Million (2YO).
He bought Touche for NZ$40,000, who went on to run third to Ruud Awakening in the showpiece two-year-old race.
Never mind, they won it the next year!!
That victory came with NZ$34,000 purchase Vespa, prepared by Johno Benner who, with partner Hollie Wynyard, prepares Scott Base.
Then, in 2016, Rutten, Norwood and partners finish third in the Karaka Million with Kingsman, who’s beaten a head and a neck. “He had to change course in the straight and I think he wins in another stride or two,” Rutten said. He was an NZ$80,000 purchase.
This is an extraordinary tale of success about a man who runs Cavallo Farm with his wife Donna.
A yearling selection strike rate which probably has many others looking over his shoulder. It certainly has others approaching him to buy on their behalf and his him contemplating abandoning the hands-on work of pre-training and breaking in favour of becoming a full time bloodstock agent.
“I’ve worked with horses all my life and I’m not sure the old body relishes too much of the physical work now,” he said.
To this point, he has not only selected his racehorses but reared, broken, educated and pre-trained them. “That makes a difference but really you have to select the right horse in the first place. That’s the key,” he said.
So what’s the right horse?
“I guess like everyone, you want to buy a horse who’s correct. But, for me, the most important thing is the balance of the horse and how they carry themselves.
“It’s trusting your eye and instinct along with a bit of hard work as I look at every horse. As soon as I like a horse, I look at the pedigree page but never before. Every horse has to be saleable so I’m not disregarding pedigrees but I don’t want to be swayed before I look at the animal. I’ve been at the coalface all my life, breaking and spelling horses which obviously gives you a good feel for the horse.
“I’m also cautious. I remind myself this is my money and it’s going to hurt if you get it wrong,” he said.
Rutten doesn’t often get it wrong, it seems.
He also got it right about twenty years ago when he shut down his business for two and a half years to work on the series of Lord Of The Rings films. His role was to re-train the horses and teach the actors to ride.
“It was a great experience and hard to believe now that the first of the films came out 17 years ago,” he said. “It’s incredible what those movies did for New Zealand. We ran Lord Of The Rings tours at our place for ten years afterwards and people still offer various tours which are still very popular.
“It was full on at the time with horses to buy and re-train, mainly to get them quiet. We taught the actors to ride and most of them really took to it. They’d come to our place on the weekends just to work on their riding.”
Donna Rutten recalls that Orlando Bloom was among the actors who were regular visitors to the farm. “He wasn’t that famous then,” she said with a smile.
Rutten doubled for the actors in no fewer than seven various roles when the riding was either too difficult or too dangerous.
He was surrounded by celebrities for a time then but you suspect he just took all that in his stride as he does with his success in yearling purchases. He might have had a bit of luck on his side. I suspect he’d concede that but it’s hard to disregard the fact that he must have one hell of a good eye.
The man you’d probably portray as New Zealand’s “Man from Snowy River” is generally acknowledged by his peers – most of whom have offered their congratulations in the past few days – as one hell of a good horseman.
“It’s been amazing really, the number of people who’ve come up to shake my hand. A bit overwhelming. I’d like to thank all of them,” he said.
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