Saving the best ’til last
For the first three days of the just concluded Flemington spring carnival there were a few New Zealand highlights. Melbourne Cup day was solid with three stakes winners, two by Savabeel (Zabeel) and one by War Decree (War Front).
However, saving the best ’til last, day four, Champions Day, was on another level.
New Zealand played a major hand in the three Group 1 “Champion” races, each building upon each other. The final Group 1, the Champion Stakes (Gr 1, 2000m), brought the curtain down on a week-long gathering of elite thoroughbreds and super results for our industry.
Again, from a New Zealand standpoint, it was fitting that now 22-year-old Savabeel should sire Atishu, the winner of this historically great race.
The six-year-old mare was backing up just seven days after finishing second to tearway Pride Of Jenni (Pride Of Dubai) in the Empire Rose Stakes (Gr 1, 1600m). Atishu was eating into Pride Of Jenni’s huge lead but the task was too great.
Pride Of Jenni, too, backed up, used identical tactics and took out the Champions Mile (Gr 1, 1600m), forty minutes before Atishu. An omen was in the offering.
Trained by New Zealander Chris Waller and ridden by New Zealander, James McDonald, New Zealand-bred Atishu had three behind her at the 1200 metres and was similarly placed at the 800 metres. McDonald moved her off the fence before the 600 metres and accelerated wide out and suddenly had the leaders in sight at the top of the straight. She continued her momentum and was only a length behind two-time Champion Stakes winner Zaaki (Leroidesanimaux) at the 300 metres.
She breezed past Zaaki at the 200 metres and at the 100 metres had her rivals in all sorts of trouble, clear by two and went to the line comfortably by the same margin for a career defining moment.
The Mackinnon Stakes was first run in 1937 but began its history as the Melbourne Stakes. Until 2021 the race was named after a former chairman of the Victoria Racing Club.
A weight-for-age event over the mile-and-a-quarter rivalled the cross-town Cox Plate (Gr 1, 2040m) and its winners are revered in thoroughbred history.
Atishu joins modern day champions Zaaki, So You Think (High Chaparral), Desert War (Desert King), Grand Armee (Hennessy) and Lonhro (Octagonal) as winners this millennium.
Since 1960, semi-biblical names such as Let’s Elope (Nassipour), Better Loosen Up (Loosen Up), Rubiton (Century), Dulcify (Decies), Family Of Man (Lots Of Man), Leilani (Oncidium), Rain Lover (Latin Lover), Tobin Bronze (Arctic Explorer) and the incomparable Tulloch (Khorassan) have their names inscribed on the trophy.
Prior to those wonder horses you can add Monte Carlo (Lucky Bag), Sailor’s Guide (Lighthouse II), Rising Fast (Alonzo), Dalray (Balloch), Delta (Midstream), Comic Court (Powerscourt), Flight (Royal Step), Tranquil Star (Gay Lothario), Beau Vite (Beau Pere) and Ajax (Heroic).
Phar Lap (Night Raid), Gloaming (The Welkin), Wakeful (Trenton) and Carbine (Musket) were victorious when the race was run as the Melbourne Stakes.
Atishu, bred by Waikato Stud and purchased by Go Racing’s Albert Bosma from the 2019 NZB Karaka Yearling Sale, was one of 70 Savabeel yearlings catalogued that year. Go Racing purchased three of the 49 Savabeels which sold up to $1.4 million, Bosma outlaying $260,000 for Atishu.
She was in good company. Amarelinha, Mo’Unga and Cool Aza Beel, all Savabeel Group 1 winners, were sourced from the same catalogue.
At the time of her purchase her page read that she was a daughter of a winning sister to dual Classic filly Daffodil (No Excuse Needed) whose three Group 1 successes were in the Australian Oaks (2400), the New Zealand One Thousand Guineas (1600m) and the Windsor Park Challenge Plate (1600m)
Her granddam, Spring (O’Reilly), was a winning half-sister to Ellerslie Sires’ Produce Stakes (Gr 1, 1200m) winner, Good Faith (Straight Strike).
Her third dam, Head Of The River (Shirley Heights), was imported to New Zealand in 1993. She was foaled in Great Britain where she was placed then exported to Australia where she had two foals. Her first New Zealand foal was Good Faith.
Head Of The River’s dam Boathouse (Habitat) was a half-sister to two Group 1 winners, namely Epsom Oaks (1m 4f) winner Bireme (Grundy) and Coronation Cup (1m 4f) winner Buoy (Aureole).
Since Atishu’s purchase, her two years younger sister, Mazzolino (Savabeel) won Trentham’s 2023 Desert Gold Stakes (Gr 3, 1600m). Aegon (Sacred Falls), the 2020 New Zealand Two Thousand Guineas (Gr 1, 1600m) and Karaka 3YO Classic (RL, 1600m) victor, is a grandson of stakes-placed Heads Or Tales (Tale Of The Cat), a half-sister to Atishu’s granddam, Spring. Aegon was a 2019 NZB Karaka graduate as well.
Six-year-old (as were the first three home in the Champion Stakes) Atishu is likely enjoying her last season of racing. She is quite valuable. The Champion Stakes is not her only Group 1 trophy having also landed the Queen Of The Turf Stakes (1600m) during Sydney’s autumn Championships last April.
Her bank account stands at $3.7 million from nine wins (four stakes) and 12 placings which include eight Group and Listed placings. Whether there are sufficient funds to keep her in New Zealand for her breeding career is doubtful. Recent auctions suggest that the Australians will probably have too many guns.
Te Akau’s David Ellis (NZ) bought Imperatriz (I Am Invincible); his wife Karyn (NZ) syndicated the mare; Mark Walker (NZ) trains the mare and Opie Bosson (NZ) rides the mare. There is a pattern here.
Many headlines are proclaiming that Imperatriz is equal to the best sprinters in the world. Four Group 1 sprints in her last five starts, including a Moonee Valley track record, leaves little room to disagree.
Saturday’s dominant Champion Sprint (Gr 1, 1200m) triumph at her first attempt down the Flemington runway looked impressive. Opie Bosson admitted that he had to alter his pre-race plans. “I probably got there a little bit soon and gee it’s a long way up that straight when you’re sitting there but to her credit she knuckled down and put her ears back and had a decent crack,” the winning rider said.
Talk of Royal Ascot is tantalising with Bosson adding: “It’d be nice to get to Ascot and show them how good she is,” he said. Taking on such a raid is an enormous task, fraught with risk, as so many things must go right.
Imperatriz has earned a break but about Royal Ascot, tWalker was more circumspect. “We’ll sit down in a couple of weeks once we get the Ready To Run Sale out of the way at home and we’ll come up with a plan,” he said.
However, as David Ellis stated a week ahead of the mare’s Flemington glory, for the owners and connections it would be a fantastic experience. Whatever the outcome, you can never take away her eight Group 1s and 17 career wins in only 23 starts.
Yarraman Park’s website states: “Imperatriz is the most successful of the 14 Group 1 winners by twice Champion Australian Sire I Am Invincible (Invincible Spirit).” An update to that modest statement might be due.
One has to admire the energy of Ellis. Most men in his age group are thinking about winding down. Not Ellis. After exhaustively reaching virtually every goal here in New Zealand, in order to continue Te Akau’s growth Australia beckoned.
Te Akau’s bold venture in setting up new stables in Cranbourne is at the heart of that growth. The Aussies are tough and to take them on at their own game takes some courage, along with energy. Well done David. You are doing us Kiwis proud.
Between the Champions Sprint and the Champions Stakes was the Champions Mile and New Zealand was front and centre again.
Although Pride Of Jenni was conceived and foaled in Australia then offered for sale via Segenhoe Stud, she was bred by Brent and Cherie Taylor of the famed Trelawney Stud, Cambridge.
The feature of her exciting winning performance was that she repeated the tactics employed in the Empire Rose Stakes seven days prior.
In the Empire Rose she was eight lengths clear inside the 800 metres and the riders aboard the chasers could not have imagined that she would not come back to them.
Amazingly, the exact same thing happened in the Mile. Her lead rounding into the long Flemington straight was slightly less but the mare’s stamina was identical and she was simply too strong to the line, evidenced by the sharp 1:34.75 for the 1600 metres.
The Taylors are not shy. They look at the breeding industry from an international perspective and are prepared to send their mares to all the best stallions available.
One such mare is New Zealand One Thousand Guineas victress Loire (Redoute’s Choice) whose dam is a half-sister to Pride Of Jenni’s Group 1 dam Vouvray (Zabeel). Trelawney sent Loire to Great Britain to be covered by none other than the great Frankel (Galileo).
It takes a special thoroughbred to win six on the trot and to do that in their first six starts is even rarer but that’s what the country’s top three-year-old, Crocetti (Zacinto), has done.
The only question mark was the 1600 metres of the New Zealand Two Thousand Guineas as Crocetti’s brilliance was largely responsible for the majority of his performances to date.
For the Guineas he was a warm favourite and again the smartest from the gates but was taken on, forcing his rider Warren Kennedy to ease to second at the 1200 metres and to third leaving the back straight. Still third at the 600 metres, Kennedy moved his mount out and at the top of the straight was poised, three deep, to challenge. He drew alongside the leader from the 300 metres, took over at the 200 metres then settled down for a good tussle. Although pressured, he was in command over the last 100 metres to win convincingly.
“He’s a real professional,” said Kennedy. “He knows what we want from him and when it’s race time.” Crocetti and pacemaker Talisker (Embellish) had the finish to themselves and the runner–up proved to be no pushover, showing real fight.
Crocetti’s sire, recently passed Zacinto (Dansili), stood at Gus Wigley’s Inglewood Stud, Kaiapoi. He also sired the 2016 NZ Two Thousand Guineas victor Ugo Foscolo.
Wigley was in good spirits on Melbourne Cup day when his stud’s War Decree was represented at Flemington by Warmonger, tenacious winner of the TAB Trophy (Listed, 1800m). It was the three-year-old’s second win in three starts and second stakes winner for War Decree.
Wigley reports that the stallion is running hot. Bookings are strong on the back of a winning treble at Riccarton last month and now Warmonger. His Luvnwar, off a solid third in the Barneswood Farm Stakes (Gr 3, 1400m) is set to run in the New Zealand One Thousand Guineas this coming Saturday.