Kiwi Chronicles

Shades of 1983

Same venue but a different race, Saturday’s Roy Higgins Quality (Gr 3, 2600m) brought to mind a longer race which is run on the first Tuesday of November.

Replay the last 100 metres of the 1983 Melbourne Cup (Gr 1, 3200m) and there is Kiwi (Blarney Kiss), sprinting as if he had just joined in, going two strides to everyone else’s one.

Forty plus years on, Mark Twain (Shocking) seemed to be paddling at the 300 metres, was making little impression at the 200 metres but well inside the 100 metres, especially over the last 50 metres, he sprinted past them as if they were standing still.

Comparing Mark Twain’s maiden stakes victory with Kiwi’s Melbourne Cup might, to many, seem sacrilegious as Kiwi is a legend in New Zealand. Nevertheless, their being able to sprint at the end of a distance race is quite similar.

That’s not all. Mark Twain’s win guarantees him a start in this year’s Melbourne Cup, just seven months away, so we don’t have that long to find out if the comparison is valid.

Like many New Zealand stayers before him, Mark Twain is only improving with age and like many slower maturing types was not seen at two. He broke his maiden in December 2022 at Hawera over 1600 metres, finishing stylishly down the outer. Two starts later at Hastings, over 2100 metres, it was much the same pattern: Back starting the bend, wide into the straight, lower his head and run past them.

At just his fifth start he lined up in the New Zealand Derby (Gr 1, 2400m), staged at Te Rapa while Ellerslie was undergoing a major upgrade. This race was practically a mirror image of the Higgins with Mark Twain secondlast at the 600 metres. He went widest soon after straightening and looked a forlorn chance at the 300 metres but over the last 100 metres he flashed into fourth and was not that far away from the winner, Sharp And Smart (Redwood).

On that run it is no surprise that the connections’ attention turned to Sydney and the Australian Derby (Gr 1, 2400m), ambitious at start six but the racing pattern was completely upside down. On this occasion he was rushed forward at the 600 metres and was much handier than we’d seen previously. In the straight he weakened out.

This season a fourth and third preceded a return to winning form at Te Rapa on Herbie Dyke Stakes Day. As usual he was well back and had one behind him at the 600 metres, only this time in the straight he weaved between runners, then with clear air sprinted through them late to win convincingly.

At Otaki for the New Zealand St Leger Trial (2300m) he again finished well for second, the race stolen soon after straightening due to a great Craig Grylls ride aboard The Underbelly (The Bold One).

So to Ellerslie, for the Auckland Cup (Gr 2, 3200m), Mark Twain was in the back third of a fairly compact field at the 1000 metres and rounding into the straight found himself on the rails with nowhere to go. From the 300 metres he pulled out into the middle of the track and then flashed into third when the race was over. That’s his pattern plus he has a good stayer’s trait of carrying his head low.

Co-trainer Roger James was in awe of his charge’s Roy Higgins effort. He said: “At the 600 metres, I had all but given up hope. He was flat catching the second-last horse. The big expanses at Flemington helped him, but it was a mighty staying effort.”

Winning jockey Mick Dee added: “He didn’t give me the easiest of rides. He can pull and reef and tear, but I was able to manage that. He was wanting to get on one rein, but he’s certainly got great staying ability and we definitely saw it then.”

His potential is enormous as Saturday’s win was only his 12th start,  which now includes four wins and three placings.

Mark Twain’s dam, Pinders Prize (Prized) was 17 when she foaled him. Her 2011 foal, Pentathlon (Pentire), also came to the fore when tried over ground. Without scoring a stakes win, Pentathlon finished second in both the Wellington Cup (Gr 2, 3200m) and the New Zealand Cup (Gr 3, 3200m), as well as a fourth in the Auckland Cup (Gr 1, 3200m).

Pinders Prize’s half-brother, Pentathon (Pentire) was named Champion NZ Stayer of 2006-07 and won the New Zealand Cup and was second in the Sydney Cup (Gr 1, 3200m). It’s no
wonder that Mark Twain, a son of Melbourne Cup winner Shocking (Street Cry), is comfortable when stepped out over ground.

Mark Twain’s granddam, Star Royal (Grosvenor), ranks as a three-quarter sister to New Zealand Oaks (Gr 1, 2400m) winner Starline (Sir Tristram). Delving further makes for interesting reading as the next dam, Star Lot (Imperialist), was a speedy two-year-old stakes winner of the Matamata Breeders’ Stakes (Gr 2, 1200m) and Star Lot’s dam was the brilliant sprinter Starlit (Star Kingdom). Is that where the sprinting ability emerges?


The result of the Vinery Stud Stakes (Gr 1, 1600m) was predictable but, as suggested in this column last week, the Sydney stables were not about to hand the race to Orchestral (Savabeel) on a platter, and so it proved, although not from the quarter expected. 

Winning rider James McDonald’s radar was fully engaged. “I knew two days ago, with Nash booked on Tutta La Vita, something was going to happen,” he said after the race. “So I was aware it was going to happen, it was just a matter of when and just being alert to it.”

Orchestral had to dig deep and did, finally levelling up at the 50 metres when many would have found the break too much. “For her to fight like that was incredible,” said McDonald. “She pulled up having a bit of a blow, so she’ll improve.”

Orchestral now heads to Randwick for the Australian Oaks (Gr 1, 2400m). Had she won the Vinery on her ear, the Queen Elizabeth Stakes (Gr 1, 2000m) might have been in play. Two weeks between runs and against her own sex over a distance we know she can handle with ease, is the right way to go. She will then have earned a break. Co-trainer James is very keen to win a Cox Plate (Gr 1, 2040m), so the Queen Elizabeth can wait.

Mum is next

Belclare (Per Incanto) signed off in style at Ellerslie on Saturday and is now headed to the broodmare paddock via the sale ring. She has more than earned her retirement, not just in terms of her bank balance of $980,275 but more so in terms of her race record.

In 36 starts Belclare was first past the post 11 times and most importantly has two Group 1 scalps, having won the New Zealand Thoroughbred Breeders’ Stakes (Gr 1, 1600m) back-to-back. Among those 11 wins are also the Westbury Classic (Gr 2, 1400m) the Canterbury Breeders’ Stakes (Gr 3, 1400m) and the Wairarapa Breeders’ Stakes (Listed, 1600m).

She is one five winners from five to race from her dam Miss Rhythmic (O’Reilly), herself a granddaughter of Olga’s Pal (Straight Strike), the top filly of her year and winner of the New Zealand One Thousand Guineas (Gr 1, 1600m)

Belclare’s Wairarapa Breeders’ Stakes win is an appropriate nod to Little Avondale Stud, the home of Per Incanto (Street Cry) in nearby Masterton. Belclare is one of seven Group 1 winners and 28 stakes winners by Per Incanto.

Number 29 could be just around the corner judging from the performance of Gringotts (Per Incanto) in the Benchmark 88 race at Rosehill on Saturday. The four-year-old has now won five of his 11 starts and has placed four times.

Four of his five wins have taken place in Melbourne and Sydney but Saturday’s victory was notable in that he was never on the track. At the 1000 metres Gringotts was trapped four deep, yet he improved rounding into straight and kept gaining on the leaders. At the 200 metres he had two to pass, but despite the wide run, took over at the 150 metres then ran clear in a sharp 1:22.67. This guy can run.

He is also well related. His granddam is a half-sister to Vegas Showgirl (Al Akbar), the dam of the great Winx (Street Cry). Per Incanto is also by Street Cry. Interesting is that.

One a month

Orchestral’s sire Savabeel (Zabeel) does what seems normal these days and scored a stakes double on Saturday to add to his growing number of stakes winners. In the five years between January 2018 and January 2023, Savabeel’s individual stakes winners grew from 70 to 130, or about one new stakes winner per month. In the following 14 months, maintaining a torrid pace, that total now stands at 143, courtesy of Wymark’s Tulloch Stakes (Gr 2, 2000m) success at Rosehill.

Ultra consistent and honest, Wymark (pictured below) finished second (twice), third (twice) and fourth (twice) in his first six races and did not visit the winner’s circle until six weeks ago at Newcastle. Since then he is unbeaten with a follow up win at Newcastle and two more, both at Rosehill including his maiden stakes win.

In his last two races he sidled up to the leader at the 200 metres, took over clearly at the 150 metres and was not in any danger to the line, making it four wins on the trot. Reports are that he will back up for the Australian Derby. In peak form he is sure to be competitive.

Wymark’s dam, Pasadena, is by O’Reilly (Last Tycoon) and the Savabeel-O’Reilly cross is proving to be prolific. Orchestral is bred on the same cross. Pasadena was unraced but ranks as a sister to the talented sprinter-miler Alamosa (O’Reilly) whose four Group 1s included the Toorak Handicap (1600m) and Thorndon Mile (1600m). Alamosa was also four-times Group 1 placed and held his own as a sire with 21 stakes winners.

Waikato Stud had more to celebrate at Rosehill when their Super Seth (Dundeel) sired his first stakes winner, Linebacker, who remains unbeaten in two starts although the two-year-old only had 0.1 lengths to spare in the Baillieu (Gr 3, 1400m).

Super Seth is best remembered for his last gasp win over Alligator Blood (All Too Hard) in the 2019 Caulfield Guineas (Gr 1, 1600m) yet we might not have seen his best due to the world-wide pandemic which threw plans up in the air in 2020. He was retired to stud earlier than planned.

As would be expected, Waikato Stud and the stallion’s shareholders have supported him strongly. His stock have been widely accepted and to have stakes winner number one on the board with his first crop can only be a positive. Like Super Seth, expect them to show more at three.

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