New Zealand news briefs

Aegon triumphs in epic Karaka Million 3YO Classic

In a titanic tussle that lived up to the pre-race hype, Aegon kept his perfect record intact with a thrilling win over Amarelinha in Saturday’s Karaka Million 3YO Classic (1600m) at Ellerslie.

Although the million-dollar race attracted a full field of 17 three-year-olds, the build-up was completely dominated by two horses. 

One was Aegon, whose three-from-three record included the Gr.1 New Zealand 2000 Guineas (1600m) at Riccarton and Gr.2 Hawke’s Bay Guineas (1400m) at Hastings. The other was Amarelinha, a stunning last-start winner of the Gr.2 Eight Carat Classic (1600m) over the same course and distance as the Karaka Million 3YO Classic.

Amarelinha started as the $2.10 favourite and was widely expected to continue the relentless winning roll of trainer Jamie Richards, jockey Danielle Johnson and the Te Akau Racing team. But Aegon, the only other runner in single figures at $2.60, crashed the party.
The top-class pair eyeballed each other in midfield for much of the race, then brought the crowd to their feet as they strode to the lead side by side halfway up the home straight.

Amarelinha appeared to be gaining the upper hand, but Aegon lifted again and prevailed, snatching victory by a head in one of the season’s standout races.

It was a remarkable training achievement by the Cambridge partnership of Murray Baker and Andrew Forsman, with Aegon not having raced since the 2000 Guineas on November 7. The son of Sacred Falls had an exhibition gallop at Ellerslie on New Year’s Day and won a trial at Matamata on January 12.

“It’s a big thrill,” Baker said. “We’ve been very patient with this horse, and the staff at home have done a great job with him. It’s also a big achievement for my training partner Andrew, who selected him at the yearling sales.

“He’d never been tried right-handed before, but he was given a great ride from Leith Innes today and he’s delivered on a big stage.”

There was a more muted response from Forsman, who also bought Aegon for $150,000 as a yearling at Karaka and shares ownership with the Zame Partnership.

“It’s a bit of a relief, and I’m glad it’s over,” he said. “He’s a very good horse, and horses like him make trainers look good. It’s special to be racing a horse like this with such great people. It’s a dream.

“Leith is a big-race rider and did a brilliant job today, and it’s a great result. I’m very happy for the staff at home. We’ve had a bit of a lean time recently, we haven’t had the strength of team that we had a few seasons ago, so this is a real boost for them.”

Innes has ridden over 300 winners at Ellerslie in a high-class career in the saddle, but this was his first win in a Karaka Million race.

“It’s a great event, and there’s nothing better than winning one of the million-dollar races on a horse like this,” he said. “He’s very special.

“The turn of foot he showed in the straight was incredible, and when the filly came up beside him, he really fought in those last 50 metres.”

Aegon became the first horse to complete the New Zealand 2000 Guineas-Karaka Million 3YO Classic double.

The race was marred by Waimoku Falls dislodging rider Ashvin Goindasamy in the back straight. The Sacred Falls filly continued riderless and took Tannahill to the extreme outside rounding the home turn.

Aegon (inner) gets the best of Amarelinha to win the $1m Karaka Million 3YO Classic (1600m) at Ellerslie, picture Kirstin Ledington 

Te Akau extends Karaka Million dominance

A brilliant performance by On The Bubbles, chased home by three of his stablemates, has added another chapter to trainer Jamie Richards and the Te Akau Racing team’s incredible dominance of the DoubleTree by Hilton Karaka Million 2YO (1200m).

The undefeated Brazen Beau gelding overcame a horror draw for an emphatic victory at Ellerslie on Saturday, scoring by a length and three-quarters from stablemates Sneaky Shark, Avonallo and Sophisticardo.

Richards and the Te Akau syndication juggernaut have now won the Karaka Million 2YO five years in a row, and Saturday’s unprecedented clean sweep of the first four placings follows two previous quinellas and a trifecta.

“I’ve always said that racing is an opportunity to make dreams into reality,” syndicate manager Karyn Fenton-Ellis said. “A five-peat in the Karaka Million is beyond our wildest dreams.

“It’s amazing to add another win today, after winning this iconic race in all of the last four years, and also having Probabeel come back last year to become the first horse to ever complete the Karaka Million 2YO-Karaka Million 3YO Classic (1600m) double.”

Bought for $90,000 from Leanach Lodge’s draft in Book 1 of Karaka 2020, On The Bubbles began his career with an all-the-way win at Awapuni in late December, which he followed up with a dominant performance at Ellerslie a fortnight ago.

He headed Karaka Million betting at the beginning of the week, but his stocks slipped when he landed the extreme outside gate in Wednesday’s barrier draw.

There was never any need to worry. An ice-cool ride from Johnathan Parkes saw On The Bubbles slide forward into an ideal position in fourth, one off the rail, within the first 400m.

Avonallo led the field around the home turn, but a sea of tangerine was forming behind him. On The Bubbles blasted out of that bunch and charged to the lead in the straight.

He was challenged on both sides by stablemates Sneaky Shark and Sophisticardo, with Avonallo sticking on bravely along the rail, but On The Bubbles asserted his superiority and stretched out to win by a length and three-quarters.

“I’m very grateful to the connections for entrusting me with the ride,” Parkes said. “He’s a super horse and he’s done really well.

“I got caught wide in the early stages, and I had to decide whether to go back or forward. I decided that I might as well keep rolling and go forward. He makes it easy with his cruising speed.

“His first win at Awapuni last month was impressive, and I thought he improved quite a lot when he came here and won a couple of weeks ago. He’s done that again today. It’s exciting.”

Richards paid tribute to Parkes, whose half-dozen previous wins for the stable include the Gr.2 Avondale Guineas (2100m) at this course on superstar Gingernuts.

“It was a lovely ride by Johnathan,” Richards said. “After breaking from the outside gate, it was a big effort to get into that good spot, and a great performance from the horse.

“This is a big team effort, and I’m really proud of the whole team. All of our horses ran well today. They all produced big performances, although perhaps Millefiori (eighth) didn’t quite handle the quick back-up from Tauranga last week. She’ll make a lovely three-year-old in time.

“Sneaky Shark ran a great race for second, and Avonallo and Sophisticardo both fought on really well for those third and fourth placings.

“I have to say thank you to David and Karyn for buying these lovely horses, and scenes like this today are what racing’s all about. There’s a great young group of owners involved in this horse, and this is a fantastic result for them.” 

Te Akau Racing to the fore on Karaka Million racenight

Classy three-year-old Need I Say More made his first run at Ellerslie a winning one when he lumped topweight of 60.5kgs to victory in the Gr.3 Cambridge Stud Almanzor Trophy (1200m), the first race on Karaka Million night.

Carrying the familiar tangerine and orange silks of Te Akau Racing, colours that were to the fore throughout the evening, the son of No Nay Never had to be good to take the win after being caught three-wide throughout the 1200m contest.

Rider Troy Harris never panicked as he allowed his charge to ease around the home bend before issuing an irresistible challenge at the 200m that carried him to a convincing half-length victory over the late closing Explosively, with pacemaker Babylon Berlin close up in third.

Trainer Jamie Richards was happy to get the win under his belt as he looks ahead to a Group One assignment with his charge next month.

“He did it the hard way after being a little slow away,” Richards said.

“He really didn’t have the speed to muster but thankfully one went around them to give us a bit of cover, which was a big help.

“It was a really tough effort to sit out there and carry that weight, so it is a great way to start the day.

‘Mind you, there is going to need to be some improvement in him as he is probably going to have to run against Avantage in his next start (Gr.1 BCD Group Sprint, 1400m).”

A $130,000 purchase by David Ellis CNZM from the Kilgravin Lodge draft during the Book 1 session at Karaka in 2019, Need I Say More has now won five of his seven starts and over $190,000 in prizemoney.

Success continued for the Te Akau Racing team later on the card as they provided the first four home in the $1m Doubletree by Hilton Karaka Million 2YO (1200m) with On The Bubbles taking the thick end of the prize, before promising mare Entriviere gave an indication she could be a future superstar with an effortless victory in the Gr.3 Brighthill Farm Concorde Handicap (1200m).

The Tavistock four-year-old had provided an inkling of her potential when successful in rating 74 company at the venue on Boxing Day, but Saturday’s group Three feature was her biggest test to date.

Beautifully handled by Danielle Johnson, Entriviere bounded away from an inside draw to dispute the pace before taking a trail behind pacemaker Rock ‘N’ Affair.

Eased off the fence at the 300m by Johnson, Entriviere dashed to the lead before comfortably holding out the late charges of Justacanta and Pretty To Sea.

“She got the soft run from the good gate and wasted no petrol,” Jamie Richards said.

“This was her biggest test and she duly obliged.

“She is a very exciting mare.

“She’s by Tavistock but she has speed to burn. She might be bound for the top drawer.”

Johnson was equally impressed by the win.

“She is just so tough and I was really looking forward to riding her today,” she said.

“She sprinted so well once I got her into the clear.

“It definitely isn’t her pet distance, so she is going to get better at 1400m and a mile.”

“Her ability is untapped, so I hope she has a Group One (victory) in her.”

Bred by Central Districts training doyenne Kevin Gray and his wife Kath, Entriviere hails from an extended family that includes multiple group One winner Maldivian and has now won four of her 5 starts.

Levante simply brilliant in Westbury Classic

Racing fans were left shaking their heads at Ellerslie on Saturday evening after witnessing exciting mare Levante take out the Gr.2 Westbury Classic (1400m).

For those who had never seen the Proisir four-year-old in action before, they could have been forgiven for ripping up their betting tickets up at the 600m as the $1.40 favourite was dead last in the ten-horse field and struggling to catch the runners immediately ahead of her.

What happened next was succinctly summed up by Levante’s rider Sam Collett when she admitted later that ‘there are good horses and then there are horses like her’.

Collett was left shaking her head as the Ken and Bev Kelso-trained mare simply looped around the outside of all runners shortly after straightening for the run home and then hit the afterburners as she scorched down the middle of the track for the easiest two-length victory you might ever see.

“It wasn’t until I got about a third of the way into the straight that I thought I’m alright,” Collett said.

“She was flat, not travelling that great and a long way off them.

“I had to keep my composure and keep her balanced but when I asked her in those first few strides she just surged and I knew then it was going to be okay.

“She is what jockeys’ dreams are made of, she is just unreal and I’m just rapt to be a part of it.

“She just seems to get lower and longer and you probably don’t appreciate just how fast she is.

“At home she is very casual and just goes about her business.”

An emotional Ken Kelso was trying to keep it all together as he paid tribute to his wife and co-trainer Bev, who wasn’t able to be on-course to witness the victory due to a bout of ill health.

“I said a while ago she is the best we’ve had and I will stick by that,” he said.

“She makes it hard on herself but that’s just her pattern of racing.

“She is just so special although I had my eyes closed when they were coming to the turn.

“The sad aspect for today is that Bev isn’t here as she has been under the weather lately. I would have loved for her to be here.”

Levante has now won six of her 8 starts for her owners that include Ancroft Stud’s Phillip Brown and his wife Catherine, former Waikato Racing Club Chief Executive Tony Enting and former touring golf professional Mark Tapper.

Showemhowitsdone survives scary moment to take Gore Guineas

Connections of Riccarton visitor Showemhowitsdone had to endure some anxious moments before her victory in the Listed Liquorland Gore Guineas (1335m) was confirmed on Saturday.

The Shane Kennedy and Anna Furlong-trained three-year-old narrowly defeated The Gift in a driving finish to the day’s feature event but proved a handful in the closing stages as she shied at something on the inside of the track and ducked out sharply.

Rider Terry Mosely quickly straightened the Showcasing filly, who had enough momentum to hold out a desperate dive by The Gift to score narrowly with Chokito and Ocean Point back in third and fourth after being slightly hampered by the eventual winner.

That Showemhowitsdone was in any position to contest the finish was down to the magic of Moseley who had her against the rail within 400m of the start despite starting from an outside barrier.

Moseley steadily made ground approaching the home turn before using his inside run to boot through to the lead and the win after his rivals had fanned out wider in the home straight.

Kennedy was delighted with the victory after making the decision to tackle the contest off the back of a win over 1000m at the Ashburton trials just over a week ago.

“We had put her out for a spell after she ran third at Riccarton on the middle day of Cup Week,” he said.

“She did really well and we used her trial at Ashburton as a guide to where we would go with her.

“Terry rode her and was delighted with how she felt so we decided to have a crack at this one first up.

“She’s about 400kgs dripping wet, so there’s not much of her, but she tries her heart out and is a real dream to do anything with.

“I thought she could go a really good race and she has done just that.”

Kennedy was quick to praise Moseley for his ride after he followed pre-race instructions to the letter.

“Terry did a great job and that’s why you have those experienced jockeys on board in the bigger races,” he said.

“Once she drew out wide, we knew she was going to need an economical run to be in it, so the plan was to drop her back, try and find some cover and not come around them.

“When she got the gap in the straight, I thought she was home although I have no idea where that fancy footwork in the last bit came from.

“She can have a few easy days before we look at her next target, although I would think she might go to the Dunedin Guineas (Listed, 1500m) in a fortnight and then we will consider some of the three-year-old fillies’ events at Riccarton after that.”

Showemehowitsdone is the only foal of ill-fated Iffraaj mare Jaffari and comes from an extended family that includes Group One winners Captivate, Culminate and Eileen Dubh. –