Kiwi Chronicles

Casting a spell

This time next week, many of the trainers present at Flemington’s Champions’ Day will have crossed “the pond” to New Zealand, hoping to uncover the next VRC Champion. Their reasoning is sound. The Kiwis are casting a spell, being responsible for five of Saturday’s winners.

This time last week, Kiwi Chronicles devoted much of the column to the ongoing battle between the New South Wales and Victoria racing jurisdictions, in particular the diluting of some established races caused by amazing popup prizemoney.

The VRC’s answer was profound. Champions’ Day was a raging success, even if the time-honoured LKS Mackinnon Stakes (Gr 1, 2000m) lost its name. Attracting outstanding fields, the revamp, bringing the carnival to a brilliant climax on the fourth day, was a masterstroke as well as a great response to the inter-state squabble.

Perhaps the success is due to the competition? Either way, racing benefitted hugely and the industry was the winner in the long run. At the same time, Racing Victoria achieved their fabulous result without a $10 million or $15 million race.

As it happens, their $9 million, constituting three $3 million races, The Champions’ Sprint (Gr 1, 1200m), The Champions’ Mile (Gr 1, 1600m) and The Champions’ Stakes (Gr 1, 2000m), had the same effect as $25 million with all three races maintaining their precious Group 1 tag.

Three countries: New Zealand, Australia and Great Britain, claimed one apiece, underlining the international nature of our industry, yet if you might have suggested that the Sprint would fall to a New Zealand-bred, you would have been among a small minority.

Back in March, Roch ‘N’ Horse (Per Incanto) shook the sprinting world with her surprise victory in the Newmarket Handicap (Gr 1, 1200m). Post race, the story became the rack bias, that the inside lanes were an advantage. Additionally, Roch ‘N’ Horse was weighted at 52.5 kilograms, receiving 4.5 kilos from the top weight.

Eight months on, under classic weight-for-age conditions, Roch ‘N’ Horse silenced her critics with a tenacious display, getting on terms with world-class sprinter Nature Strip (Nicconi) then outgunning him in the final strides. It’s worth repeating: Kiwis can sprint. Kiwis can stay. They can do it all.

Given the quality of the field, her $20 winning odds were understandable. However, leading up to Saturday’s performance Roch ‘N’ Horse’s form was sound. In the Carlyon Stakes (Listed, 1000m) at Moonee Valley on August 20, she finished a solid fourth behind subsequent Group 1 winner Bella Nipotina (Pride of Dubai) on a Heavy 8 track. The mare is not happy on wet tracks. Clearly, Mike Moroney had her fit.

The Bobbie Lewis Quality (Gr 2, 1200m) on September 10, back at what is now her favourite track, Flemington, she led inside the 200 metres, was headed but fought back hard, losing narrowly to Baller (High Chaparral). Baller ran third in Saturday’s Champions’ Sprint.

Three weeks later, again at Flemington, she chased Private Eye (Al Maher) hard for a good second in the Gilgai Stakes (Gr 2, 1200m). Private Eye would finish second to Giga Kick (Scissor Kick) in The Everest (1200m), then land the rich Nature Strip Stakes (1300m) at his next start.

Roch ‘N’ Horse was a late scratching from the October 22 Manikato Stakes (Gr 1, 1200m). When a bolt of lightning struck Moonee Valley, followed by torrential rain, trainer Mike Moroney pulled the plug which turned out to be godsend.

Immediately after the Sprint, Moroney stated: “She was fresh today, she’s better on the fresh side. You learn more about them as you go along and I certainly learnt more about her today.”

Now on the verge of earning $3 million, Roch ‘N’ Horse’s public career started humbly, being passed in with a reserve of $40,000 at Book 2 of the 2018 NZB Karaka Yearling Sales. An injury meant that Roch ‘N’ Horse did not trial until she turned four, in September of 2020, a trial she won before heading back to Te Aroha to win on debut in the November from Pam Gerard’s stable, the co-training arm of Mike Moroney’s Ballymore Stables.

Her third start, at Ellerslie on New Year’s Day of 2021 saw part-owner, Little Avondale Stud’s Sam Williams, on track to witness the mare’s second win and it was at that point that they knew there was something about the daughter of Per Incanto (Street Cry) and Rochfort (Cecconi). She powered home over 1200 metres in a sharp 1:09.38, the last 600 metres in 33.74 seconds.

At start six she jumped to stakes class in Trentham’s Lightning Stakes (Listed, 1200m), beaten by a nose, the winner running a slashing 1:07.93. That race was the beginning of Roch ‘N’ Horse’s love of (near) straight courses.

Two starts later she rounded out her first racing season with a Listed win at Hastings which took care of her future broodmare career as a blacktype winner.

She had no luck at Ellerslie in the 2022 Railway Stakes (Gr 1, 1200m), but her nose defeat by NZ Sprinter of the Year, Levante (Proisir) in the WFA Telegraph (Gr 1, 1200m) paved the way for her to be given her chance in Australia. And why not? The Telegraph is run at weight-for-age and she completed the last 600 metres in a crushing 31.81 seconds.

Her six starts subsequent to her transfer to Mike Moroney have yielded two Group 1s, two Group 2 seconds, a Listed fourth and the one flub, in the Heavy at Randwick.

Flemington’s feature Group spring sprint mostly eludes the Kiwis. The last bred in New Zealand prior to Roch ‘N’ Horse was Swick (O’Reilly), winner of the 2008 contest and before that Glamour Puss (Tale Of The Cat), in 2005, both bred by Waikato Stud’s Garry Chittick. The 2014 victor, Terravista (Captain Rio), was conceived in New Zealand, but foaled in Australia.

One never knows

Roch ‘N’ Horse was a November 15 foal. Her dam never made it to the races. Her granddam, Belongs In Lights (Belong To Me), had one start. Her third dam, Celebrity Status (Centaine) was unplaced, while her fourth dam, Forever And Ever (Authentic Heir) raced once. Broodmare owners take note. One never knows.

Rochfort has had three to the races, but as a broodmare has had a somewhat chequered career, which includes producing a foal to a teaser stallion. Such things can happen before known results such as those by Roch ‘N’ Horse. The mare is back in foal to Per Incanto.

Granddam Belongs In Lights has a good produce record. Three of her six foals to race have achieved black type. To Handsome Ransom (Red Ransom) she produced the stakeswinning brothers Weissmuller and Travolta, the former a Group 3 winner and the latter a dual Listed winner in Sydney.

To Tavistock (Montjeu), Belongs In Lights produced Harlow Gold, a winner in Melbourne but more importantly, twice Group 1 placed, including second in the VRC Oaks (Gr 1, 2500m).

Third dam Celebrity Status is a sister Sydney winner Centaine’s Gift, dam of twice Listed winner Presently (Unbridled’s Song) and granddam of two Group 2 winners including the talented filly, dual Group 2 winner Serena Miss (Iffraaj).

VRC Oaks winner Set Square (Reset) is a granddaughter of Clarice (Star Way), a half-sister to Roch ‘N’ Horse’s fourth dam, Forever And Ever.

One of Per Incanto’s 24 stakes winners, Roch ‘N’ Horse jumps to the head of the class as a dual Group 1 winner. The Little Avondale stallion has five Group 1 winners to his name and currently sits 21st on the 2022-23 Australian Sires List.

Reasons to head to Karaka

As previously mentioned, five of the nine Champions’ Day winners were bred in New Zealand. Atishu (Savabeel) returned to the winner’s circle for her seventh career win (fourth stakes) when scoring the Matriarch Stakes (Gr 2, 2000m), making it back-to-back Matriarchs for Savabeel (Zabeel), whose Zayydani was successful last year.

On the Australian Sires’ List, Savabeel stretches his lead over Scissor Kick (Redoute’s Choice)  to $800,000. It’s early, of course, but it does no harm to New Zealand breeders and vendors to see a NZ-based sire head the current rankings.

Atishu was purchased at NZB’s 2019 Book 1 Karaka Yearling Sale as was Snapper (Power), winner of race nine, The Grand Handicap (1100m), a stablemate of Roch ‘N’ Horse.

Tavistock’s French Emperor, a graduate of the NZB 2020 Book 1 Karaka Yearling Sale, took out race one immediately followed by 2020 Ready to Run Sale graduate Flash Feeling (Iffraaj) in race two. Iffraaj (Zafonic) also sired Short Shorts, successful in the last at Rosehill.

Add to the above the Group 1 second placing (promoted from third) from Mo’Unga (Savabeel) in the Champions’ Stakes and a demoted (from second past the post) third from Heezashocka (Shocking) in the same race. The Champions’ Mile saw Mr Brightside (Bullbars) run third, while, last Tuesday, High Emocean (Ocean Park) followed up her recent Bendigo Cup (Gr 3, 2400m) win with a solid third placing in the Melbourne Cup (Gr 1, 3200m).

New Zealand Bloodstock’s marketing department can have a muffin with their morning coffee this week. Their job has been done.

Local scene

Overshadowed by Flemington, there was another meeting which had significance and that was Riccarton’s day one of their Show Week meeting, featuring the first classic of our season, the New Zealand 2,000 Guineas (Gr 1, 1600m), which drew a top field.

Group 1s are not easy to come by and this year’s Guineas was no exception. Michael McNab, who rode the winner, Pier (Proisir), admitted that his ride wasn’t exactly a picture-book one. Just forward of midfield, three deep, at the 1200 metres he had to check. McNab got him balanced and from the 1000 metres, went forward to sit fifth inside the 800 metres. He kept improving, drove up, three wide, to share third inside the 600 metres and starting the run home was one of four across the track. McNab waited, was second at the 200 metres then with a couple of bounds grabbed the lead at the 150 metres. Under threat from both sides, he kept finding and found a kick just short of the line for the halfhead win.

The jockey summed it up thus: “There were different scenarios and that was one of them, but it was all a bit ridiculous,” said McNab. “They just slowed up and slowed up and I thought the best thing I can do is sit three wide and get comfortable. It left me vulnerable, but lucky he is so tough.”

The win extends Pier’s brief race record to three wins in four outings, the 2,000 Guineas being preceded by last month’s Hawke’s Bay Guineas (Gr 2, 1400m).

For trainer Darryn Weatherly, the result was some compensation as he had trained Pier’s grandam Naturo (Postponed), one of the better fillies of her crop, taking out the Matamata Breeders’ Stakes (Gr 2, 1200m) at two and the Gold Trail Stakes (Gr 3, 1200m) the next season. Her career was cut short after just six starts, when pulling up lame in the 2006 New Zealand 1,000 Guineas (Gr 1, 1600m).

“We bred him with Barry Wright and his granddam ran fifth in the 1,000 Guineas so for her grandson to come out and win this one is quite special,” said Weatherly.

The win propelled his sire Proisir (Choisir) out to a $450,000 lead on the New Zealand Sires’ Premiership with 15 individual winners for the season, including three individual stakes winners. Of the four New Zealand Group 1s run so far this season, Rich Hill Stud’s Proisir is responsible for two of them, the other, Dark Destroyer. Proisir’s barn mate, Vadamos (Monsun), has been represented by La Crique and Windsor Park Stud’s Vanbrugh (Encosta De Lago) can lay claim to Mustang Valley’s Livamol Classic (Gr 1, 2040m) win.

Quick succession

Two weeks ago, Mapperley Stud’s Contributer (High Chaparral) was stuck on two stakes winners. Two weeks on he has doubled that score with Campionessa taking out the Metropolitan Handicap (Listed, 2500m). The win was due as the five-year-old had finished runner-up, providing a Contributer quinella, when running second behind Elizabeth Rose in Riccarton’s Spring Classic (Listed, 2000m).

Much of the credit for the victory can be attributed to a heady ride from Josh Parr, who received instructions from the mare’s regular hoop, the suspended Opie Bosson. Parr saved heaps of territory from the 600 metres, cornered against the fence and led at the 300 metres, still a long way from home. She had to be tough after reaching the lead, but held on gamely by a neck.

“I was mindful of [Bosson’s advice], not trying to get her wide and when the inside runs kept appearing, I just kept pinching each one of them,” said Parr.

Campionessa is the third stakes winner from her Trentham winning dam, Bella Carolina (O’Reilly), following Tennessee (Per Incanto) and Leedox (Time Test), both Listed winners at two. Her granddam, Kelly Flinn (Centaine), is a half-sister to Group 1 winner and four times Group 1 placed Dress Circle (Zabeel) while her third dam, Listed winner Flight Queen (Noble Bijou), is a half-sister to the dam of Carson’s Cash (Lord Ballina), the Easter Handicap (Gr 1, 1600m) winner.

Vale Starcraft

Five-time Group 1 winner Starcraft (Soviet Star), who passed last week, was a star at three and four in Australasia and at five took his talents to Newmarket and Longchamp, scoring two Group 1s against the best in Europe. Kiwi Chronicles contacted Robert Dawe, who purchased Starcraft as a yearling for Paul Makin and, apart from his comments on seeing Starcraft for the first time, (a “wow” horse), Dawe revealed something which was quite interesting.

“He just had this presence and style for a big bloke. He flowed in the walk, plus was ever so light on his feet. I also went and hooked another big chestnut yearling for owner Makin at the same sale, a filly called We Can’t Say That,” said Dawe. “She won eight races and ran a Group 3 fourth. Later, Makin bred Starcraft to We Can’t Say That and the resultant foal, a filly called We Can Say It Now, was twice a Group 1 winner trained by Murray Baker.”

Both Starcraft and We Can’t Say That were from Pompeii Court (Tell) mares and daughter We Can Say It Now landed Trentham’s Captain Cook Stakes (Gr 1, 1600m) and Levin Classic (Gr 1, 1600m).