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Rocket Spade wins thrilling New Zealand Derby

In a desperate three-way finish to the blue riband Gr.1 Vodafone New Zealand Derby (2400m), it was race favourite Rocket Spade who came out on top at the conclusion of a thrilling contest.

The Lance O’Sullivan and Andrew Scott-trained colt had gone into the race off a strong performance to win the Gr.2 Avondale Guineas (2100m) in his final lead-up to Sunday’s feature event at Ellerslie.

That run had hinted the son of Fastnet Rock would thrive on the 2400m of the Derby and so it proved as rider Craig Grylls provided a masterclass in getting Rocket Spade home after the pair were in last position with just 600m to run.

With no natural pacemaker, several lead changes ensued contributing to a steady but muddling pace throughout the contest and there were a number of runners feeling the pinch approaching the home turn. Grylls had Rocket Spade travelling strongly and gambled on a run through the pack as many of his more fancied rivals skirted wide around the bend.

The lengths that Grylls saved proved the difference as Rocket Spade joined Milford and Frontman at the 250m to fight out the final stages. In a slogging finish Rocket Spade dug deep to win by half a length from Milford who just shaded Frontman for second.

O’Sullivan was fighting hard to keep his emotions in check as he praised his training partner, Scott, and the team at their Wexford Stables for their contributions to the victory.

“This is pretty special for Andrew and all the team,” O’Sullivan said.

“Scotty has done a great job with this horse and it’s a great result. 

“Paul (O’Sullivan’s brother) found this horse at the sales and he keeps taking credit for it, so good on him.

“They went hard and Craig (Grylls) said he was going to ride him for luck as he believed in the horse.

“It was a no panic, ten out of ten ride, that won him the race.”

O’Sullivan also thanked owners Hermitage Thoroughbreds, a racing and breeding operation headed by Hong Kong businessman Eugene Chuang.

While they came up short in the 2020 New Zealand Derby with the well-fancied Dragon Leap, who finished fourth, Hermitage have had considerable success in New Zealand with the O’Sullivan-Scott team, boasting Group One victories with Willie Cazals and Summer Passage, in addition to multiple elite level placings with Group Three winner Spring Heat.

“Thanks to team Hermitage who let us buy him at the sales,” he said.

“They told us we had five years to buy them a Derby winner and we’ve done it.

“This horse probably has the genes to run further than Dragon Leap, who was a little brilliant for the Derby distance, and showed great stamina today.”

O’Sullivan was also delighted to get his first win in the New Zealand Derby as a trainer after winning the race in 1990 on Surfers Paradise and again in 1993 aboard Popsy, during his storied career in the saddle.

“This is probably more special for me as it is a lot harder to do as a trainer,” he said.

“I’m just thrilled for Craig and the great team we have behind us.

“Andrew told me I could retire now as I’ve won a Derby.”

It was the second win in the race for Grylls, who had been aboard rank outsider Crown Prosecutor when he took out the 2019 edition of the race.

“That was unbelievable,” Grylls said.

“I’m just rapt to get one for Lance and Scotty as throughout my career they have been one of my biggest supporters.

“For them to put their trust in me to ride the horse, I’m just absolutely stoked.

“Lance started helping me when I first went to Matamata and I have a lot to thank him for.

“They weren’t going any real tempo in the race and at the 1300m they put the brakes on and he (Rocket Spade) got going a little bit hard.

“A few of them started going wide so I thought that was my chance to save a few lengths and ride for luck which I got.

“I was thinking don’t get there (the front) too soon, but he is such an honest horse he got the trip nicely.”

Rocket Spade is out of the Stakes placed mare Affairoftheheart and comes from an extended family that includes dual Group One winner Soriano. He has now won four of his 8 starts and over $745,000 in prizemoney.

A decision will be made as to whether Rocket Spade presses on to targets in Sydney, while placegetters Milford and Frontman are both booked to travel across the Tasman on Monday week.  

Rocket Spade, picture Race Images

Te Akau Racing enjoy black type bonanza at Ellerslie

Punters who thought the result of the Gr.3 McKee Family Sunline Vase (2100m) was a foregone conclusion when installing glamour filly Amarelinha a red-hot $1.30 favourite for the race were left hanging on the result of the photo-finish to a thrilling contest in the fillies feature.

Most expected Amarelinha to carry on her winning way after registering a pair of Group Two victories and a brave runner-up finish to Aegon in the Karaka Million 3YO Classic (1600m) in her last three starts.

However, no-one told under-rated Makfi filly Needle And Thread who went about upsetting the applecart in no uncertain terms.

Taken to the front by rider Craig Grylls, Needle And Thread had her rivals under enormous pressure as she skipped clear on the point of the home turn, just as she had when winning the Gr.2 Royal Stakes (2000m) at the same venue on New Year’s Day. 

Amarelinha and rider Opie Bosson set out after Needle And Thread with a determined staying run, clawing back the advantage inch by inch as the winning post loomed. Just as Needle And Thread was being hailed the winner, Amarelinha lunged and got in the deciding stride to take victory by the barest of margins. 

“That is certainly a relief,” trainer Jamie Richards said after hearing the result of the photo-finish.

“It was unfortunate that when Opie tried to get forward and mobile, they all dug up inside him and she (Amarelinha) was very wide from the 600m.

“The second horse is no slouch as she has got very good form, so we will head to Wellington in a fortnight, ready to go.”

Richards was referring to the Gr.1 Al Basti Equiworld Dubai New Zealand Oaks (2400m) on March 20, where Amarelinha and Needle And Thread are likely to clash once again.

Purchased by David Ellis for $300,000 from the Waikato Stud draft during Book 1 at Karaka in 2019, Amarelinha has won four of her 6 starts and three at stakes level. TAB Bookmakers have her installed as the $1.60 favourite for the New Zealand Oaks with Needle And Thread the equal $8 second favourite with Cheaperthandivorce.

Earlier in the day classy three-year-old sprinter Need I Say More underlined all his fighting qualities when he ran down flying filly Babylon Berlin to win the Listed Fasttrack Mufhasa Stakes (1300m) at Ellerslie on Sunday.

Fresh-up off the back of a win on Karaka Million night, where he took out the Gr.3 Almanzor Trophy (1200m), the Jamie Richards-trained chestnut had trialled against older horses over 1000m at Pukekohe ten days earlier to prepare him for Sunday’s assignment.

Pacemaker Babylon Berlin, who carried 4kgs less than Need I Say More, attempted to steal a march on her rivals rounding the home bend under rider Samantha Collett.

But the favourite comfortably ate into the margin via a cool Opie Bosson ride to score by three-quarters of a length, with stablemate Cornflower Blue finishing off nicely for third.

A multiple Group winner, the son of No Nay Never advanced his career record to six wins from eight starts. 

“He’s a quality horse who sneaks under the radar a little at home, as he doesn’t put a lot of enthusiasm into his work,” Richards said.

“He ran last at the trials at Pukekohe the other day, but that’s just him and he turns up on raceday.

“It was a lovely ride by Opie as he didn’t panic when Sam (Collett) put a bit of a break on him and the horse ground away nicely over the last little bit.

“He’s a promising horse who has put together a good record so far.”

Richards has another stakes target in mind for the gelding who was purchased for $130,000 by David Ellis CNZM out of the Kilgravin Lodge draft during the Book 1 Sale at Karaka in 2019.

“He will go to the Wellington Guineas (Gr.2, 1400m) in a fortnight,” he said.

“Cornflower Blue will be there with him and I thought she went nicely first up.

“We could actually have four in that race as we might also have Brando and Kahma Lass, who have come back from Australia, there as well.”

That victory also brought up a notable milestone for Richards and Te Akau Racing as it was the stable’s 26th stakes win in New Zealand for the season, breaking the record of 25 set by Murray Baker and Andrew Forsman in the 2018/19 racing season.

With the win by Amarelinha and Entriviere in the Gr.3 Haunui Farm King’s Plate (1200m) one race earlier, that tally now stands at 28 stakes wins in New Zealand for the season. 

Rain no barrier for exciting Entriviere

A heavy downpour during the running of Sunday’s Gr.3 Haunui Farm King’s Plate (1200m) proved no hindrance to exciting mare Entriviere as she produced a flashing burst of speed to capture her second successive Group Three victory.

The Tavistock four-year-old had taken out the Gr.3 Concorde Handicap (1200m) on Karaka Million night at her most recent start, after enjoying a perfect run in-transit on that occasion.

This time rider Danielle Johnson had to negotiate a wide barrier, a 1kg weight penalty for her last victory and a deteriorating track surface against a quality field of sprinters. 

Despite those factors against her, Entriviere turned in a career best performance to come from a midfield position and storm past stakes performers Bavella and Spring Heat in the final 150m to win by a comfortable two-lengths.

Johnson had difficulty finding the right words to describe the stunning performance from one of New Zealand’s most exciting gallopers. 

“I’m pretty gob-smacked really,” she said.

“Obviously her previous wins have been so good, but today she has really put paid to them as we went past them and said goodbye.
“When you are coming up against proven horses it is never just a sit and steer job, but she had a few things against her and the way she won, I’m a little lost for words.”

Richards was also left shaking his head about just how comfortable the victory had been.

“Just awesome,” he said.

“It was a lovely ride and she was able to get on the back of Mascarpone in midfield which was probably the winning of the race.
“When she got to the outside, she has a wicked turn of foot and she really showed that today.

“She is bound for the top drawer, there is no doubt about that. 

“It might not be this season as we have spaced her races, but she has a good group of owners that have allowed us to give her time.
“We found her off the trials and we are really thrilled with the way she is going.”

Richards was hesitant to label any future plans for the mare but hinted that an Australian sojourn could be on offer.

“Whether she ends up in Australia one day, I’m not sure, but the way she is going you might be able to make use of her handicap over there,” he said.

“Everyone has asked what her best distance might be, but I don’t think we need to make her go any further at the moment so we might just keep her to 1200m and space her races well.”

Bred by Central Districts training doyenne Kevin Gray and his wife Kathleen, Entriviere hails from an extended family that includes multiple group One winner Maldivian and has now won five of her 6 starts and over $131,000 in prizemoney. 

Sharing in the Te Akau Buckle Up Racing Partnership, which race Entriviere, are Richards grandparents Gary and Lorraine McDonnell. 

Hard work rewarded with Contributer’s big week

Within the space of just four days, a huge black-type double for three-year-old progeny of Contributer has rewarded years of hard work for Simms Davison and the Mapperley Stud team.

The Matamata nursery has had its ups and downs since entering the stallion business almost a decade ago, including the untimely loss of the highly promising Atlante – sire of 25 winners from just two crops, with three stakes winners including Group One star Callsign Mav.

But this week made it all worthwhile as Contributer’s first-crop daughter Llanacord delivered his first black-type win in Wednesday’s Gr.2 Lowland Stakes (2100m) at Hastings, then Lion’s Roar went one better with a powerful finish to triumph in Saturday’s Gr.1 Randwick Guineas (1600m).

“It’s been a great few days,” Davison said. “It’s really rewarding – not only for me, but for the whole team on the farm as well. They’ve all worked so hard over a long period of time.

“One of the coolest things about Saturday was that most of the texts that were flying around were from members of our staff, and also past employees. They all know how much we’ve always liked this horse, and they know how much work we’ve all put into trying to get our stallion roster up and running.

“We’ve had some ups and downs since we decided to move into the stallion game about eight years ago. Losing Atlante was a huge blow for us, and pretty deflating after we’d put in a lot of long hours and hard work.

“To have the excitement and thrills that Contributer has given us this week, it’s a massive boost for the farm.”

Contributer is now the sire of 14 winners from 38 runners, with two stakes winners and another three stakes placegetters.

The son of High Chaparral won the Gr.1 Chipping Norton Stakes (1600m) and Ranvet Stakes (2000m) in the all-blue colours of Godolphin, and Davison subsequently secured him in a deal with Darley.

“We bought half of the horse, and Darley owns the other half,” he said. “He was one of the very first horses I syndicated, and there was a great response from New Zealand breeders. 

“Some people might have been put off by the fact that he won his Group Ones as an older horse himself, thinking his progeny might be later-maturing types. 

“But John O’Shea, who trained him, told me there was no reason he couldn’t have performed like that earlier. He was just kept away from that level when he was in the northern hemisphere. John said that if he’d got his hands on him earlier, he would have been performing at the top level earlier, and he always believed his progeny would have the ability to run early as well.

“The clients who backed him and put their faith in him are now being rewarded, and that’s so satisfying for us.”

Despite Darley retaining 50% of the ownership, Davison confirmed that Contributer’s future lies on this side of the Tasman.

“He’s permanently in New Zealand,” he said. “When we got the deal done with Darley, part of the agreement was that he would remain over here. The only way he could possibly go over to Australia is through a sale, so Darley would have to buy us out for that to happen.

“It’s great for the New Zealand industry to have an emerging stallion performing like he is. We’ve been up against it in the last few years, with the gap between our racing and Australia’s, so it’s great to have another stallion come along who can hopefully fly the flag.”

But that excitement is tinged with a little disappointment, with Contributer having produced under 40 foals in each of the 2017, 2018 and 2019 seasons.

“We’ve had a bit of bad luck with him – he took a bad kick one year, and we had to shut him down for a large part of the season,” 
Davison said. “There was a similar situation another year as well, so there have been a few challenges and he hasn’t had huge numbers. But the results of this week have really put him on his way.

“The demand for his yearlings has been fantastic, right from his very first crop. The results this year have been huge. He stamps his mark on them, particularly with his great temperament, and the market has responded really well to them. That’s been very pleasing to see.” 




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