Kiwi Chronicles

Looking on the bright side

When approached by editor Alex Wiltshire, more than two years ago, to compile Kiwi Chronicles for ANZ Bloodstock News and summarise weekly the New Zealand breeding industry, it was humbling.

The column is as much a cheerleading exercise for the success of the industry as anything else, but to be able to combine a deep interest in the New Zealand Stud Book with good old Kiwi pride is indeed a pleasure.

So, no apologies for beating our chest when the results have been enormous, such as the production of 35 Group 1 winners last season. Success in Australia in the 2022-23 season, our largest and most important market, was beyond our dreams.

That success continued this past Saturday when Mr Brightside (Bullbars) confirmed rider Craig Williams’ recent comments that the six-year-old is the best miler in Australia.

As if to underline Williams’, undoubtedly correct, observation, co-trainer, Ben Hayes, added: “It was the first time I’ve seen him with his tongue out, so he’s sticking his tongue out at them but he won well and he’s such an exciting horse, we’re so proud of him. He’s an incredible horse.”

Although the field for the Makybe Diva Stakes (Gr 1, 1600m) numbered just seven, the quality was high with three of the first four home in the Memsie Stakes (Gr 1, 1400m) lining up. Getting past a much fitter Alligator Blood (All Too Hard), a dual Group 1 winner at Flemington, is a feat in itself.

Banking more than $9 million from 14 wins in 26 starts, Mr Brightside is undefeated in three starts this season. His last five successive wins have raked in $5.7 million, a staggering total for a horse with such a chequered sales history.

He was, for all intents and purposes, unwanted, except by his breeder who firstly sold him at NZB’s 2019 Karaka Yearling Sale for a meagre $22,000. Mr Brightside was back at Karaka the following November but failed to reach his $50,000 reserve.

In August of 2020 he found himself for sale again, this time as an unraced three-year-old, via the online auction house, Gavelhouse, and brought in a lowly $7,750. The buyer? His breeder Ray Johnson, who now had two partners in Ralph Manning and Shaun Dromgool.

January of 2021 saw him win a trial at Matamata and a month later, also at Matamata, he was desperately unlucky when fifth at his first and only start in New Zealand.

As rags to riches go, Mr Brightside qualifies in spades and makes horse buying and ownership so intriguing. It’s not quite the lottery, but because no one knows where the next good horse will emerge, it certainly makes it fair for anyone and everyone to at least have a go.

Kiwi Chronicles delved into his form in detail after the Memsie win on September 2 with a view as to whether he might continue this great spell at a distance further than 1600 metres. He can take a handy sit and, when asked, he is able to accelerate before putting them away. The fact remains he has yet to do that over more ground and, last year, ran three times beyond a mile, with results quite different from what we’ve seen at 1400 metres or 1600 metres.

Perhaps, at six, he has matured and his class will prove otherwise. We simply won’t know until he steps out in the Caulfield Stakes (Gr 1, 2000m) which will be upon us quite soon, so stay tuned.

Aside from that…

As for Saturday’s results, Mr Brightside was clearly the highlight. However, keep in mind that his sire, Bullbars (Elusive Quality), is no longer in New Zealand having been banished after eight crops and exported to Orange Court Stud in South Australia in 2020.

That should come as no surprise as the stallion’s results were not forthcoming. In his first five seasons he attracted an average of 52 mares, whereas in his last three seasons here that number fell to an average of 16. Understandably, breeders gave up.

In the remaining 11 stakes races held throughout Australia on Saturday, Kiwi-breds drew a blank regarding winners but our industry did provide a few placegetters. Perhaps the most impressive was Life Lessons (Tavistock), the five-year-old mare who had the misfortune to find herself matched against the outstanding Amelia’s Jewel (Siyouni) in the Let’s Elope Stakes (Gr 2, 1400m).

Life Lessons gave a good account of herself and kept Amelia’s Jewel honest until quite late in the race, to briefly lead at the 200-metre mark then give a steadfast fight to the line. The mare was in good form late last year, scoring a treble, including two wins at Sandown, and has been nominated for the upcoming Epsom Handicap (Gr 1, 1600m).

Her dam, Brockman’s Lass (Encosta De Lago), visited New Zealand for two seasons, dropping Life Lessons in 2018. An accomplished mare, Brockman’s Lass won at Group 3 and Listed level in Adelaide and recorded Listed wins at Flemington and Moonee Valley.

Apart from being sired by Tavistock (Montjeu) and beginning her life in New Zealand, Life Lessons’ family is all-Australian, tracing to Sunset Sue (Sunset Hue), her fifth dam and full sister to Australian Hall of Famer, Gunsynd (Sunset Hue).

Gunsynd was an iconic Australian favourite who not only bagged a Cox Plate (Gr 1, 2000m), but also racked up four of Australia’s most important mile races, namely the Doncaster (Gr 1, 1m), carrying 60.5 kilograms, George Adams (Gr 1, 1m) and the Toorak (Gr 1, 1m) and Epsom Handicaps (Gr 1, 1m). After his Cox Plate triumph he was a gallant third, also under 60.5 kilograms in the 1972 Melbourne Cup (Gr 1, 3200m). Mention Gunsynd’s name to a racing old timer and a smile will inevitably break out.

The NZ suffix was also present when Osipenko (Pierro) finished a solid third, getting clear when the Makybe Diva Stakes was over. Osipenko may have the NZ suffix but the son of Pierro (Lonhro) was conceived in Australia.

Conceived in New Zealand but foaled in Australia was Benaud (Reliable Man) who, prior to Saturday’s runner-up finish in the Kingston Town Stakes (Gr 3, 2000m), broke through at black type level when taking out the Wyong Cup (Listed, 2100m) on September 1.

Flemington’s Sofitel Handicap (Listed, 1400m) and Morphettville’s WH Wylie Handicap (Listed, 1100m) provided the New Zealand-bred third placegetters Detonator Jack (Jakkalberry) and Zac De Boss (Zacinto) respectively.

More cross-Tasman results

Becoming quite common is the presence of Australian-breds making a strong statement on New Zealand’s stakes calendar. Imperatriz (I Am Invincible) is the latest and most obvious example.

In a quiet week locally, stakes-wise, Riccarton’s Canterbury Belle Stakes (Listed, 1200m) resulted in a quinella of two fillies conceived in Australia yet foaled in New Zealand. Te Akau Racing’s Viva Vienna (All Too Hard) and Illicit Dreams (Vancouver) fought out the finish and were clearly superior to their opponents.

On paper, the race looked like a rematch of a 1000-metre three-year-olds event from September 2 except the tactics were reversed. Viva Vienna led throughout in the first match but on this occasion she led for just the first few strides then trailed second and ultimately sat third at the junction. In a pocket on the rails at the 400 metres she found room to move out at the 200-metre mark then began her chase. She was within a length at the 100 metres, challenged soon after, and got the better of Illicit Dreams over the final 50 metres. There was only a half neck between them and the time was slick 1:07.18.

The two fillies have something in common. Both were bred by Westbury Stud’s Gerry Harvey and both were secured at the 2022 NZB Karaka Yearling Sale. Viva Vienna was found in Book 1 and fetched $100,000, purchased by Te Akau’s David Ellis, while Illicit Dreams made $30,000 out of Book 2 and was purchased by Rae Racing (trainers Kenny Rae and Krystal Williams) for $30,000.

From seven starts, Viva Vienna has won four and the Canterbury Belle Stakes victory has enhanced her value considerably. She has once run poorly and that was on a deep Te Rapa track in the Equine Veterinary Centre 2YO Stakes (Listed, 1200m), her final start at two. Otherwise, her four wins and two placings suggest that she possesses well above average talent. On better ground, when in for the fight she gives her all.

By the same sire as Alligator Blood, Viva Vienna is out of the unraced Snitzel (Redoute’s Choice) mare Anna Of Austria, herself a three-quarter sister to Geelong Classic (Listed, 2206m) winner Milestone (Redoute’s Choice), while Viva Vienna’s granddam, Cannyanna (Canny Lad), won two Listed races in Melbourne and raced up to Group 1 level when finishing third in Flemington’s Salinger Stakes (1200m).

Her being able to sit off the pace is going to be a positive when she is tried over further. 

“They wanted to go a little quick for us early on,” said rider Sam Weatherley. “I took a sit to give her a chance to run out the 1200 metres strongly. The most encouraging part was the last little bit. She settled well and attacked the line.”

Co-trainer, Sam Bergerson, added: “The 1,000 Guineas is a lovely target for her if she stretches out to that distance.

“We will get her home and see how she does and then make a plan.”

Scooped the pool

Unable to attend the NZTBA Awards meeting in July, Novara Park’s Luigi Muollo was present at a small but appreciative gathering for the Wellington Branch AGM, where Muollo received more awards in connection with his breeding operation. The highlight of which was the success of his Madonna Mia (Red Clubs), dam of Hong Kong Champion Sprinter Lucky Sweynesse (Sweynesse).

The meeting also featured a thoroughly entertaining speech from Cambridge Stud’s Henry Plumptre who had many great stories to tell about his long involvement in the industry. Plumptre knows a huge number of powerful industry leaders, of which he is one.

Plumptre, former general manager of Darley, had first hand experience regarding Muollo’s stallion Sweynesse (Lonhro) as his dam, Swansea (Singspiel), was part of Darley’s broodmare band.

Plumptre had the audience laughing when he told of his experience as a rider, his sole win taking place over jumps in a four-horse field in which the other three runners fell. A good night was had by all.

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