New Zealand news briefs

Caitlyns Wish all the way at Te Rapa

By Richard Edmunds, LOVERACING.NZ News Desk

Apprentice jockey Maria Sanson has been with Caitlyns Wish for almost every step of her career, and a tough front-running victory in Saturday’s Mike Stent Decorators Sprint (1200m) at Te Rapa handed them their fifth win together.

The $40,000 sprint was the sixth win from 15 starts for Caitlyns Wish, who has also picked up five placings and has earned more than $124,000 for the estate of the late Stan Painton. Sanson has been in the saddle for 12 of those 15 races, winning five times and placing in another four.

The pair have enjoyed a particularly successful autumn and winter, starting with an impressive win at Wanganui on April 27 and a placing at Pukekohe on May 25. With Sanson riding at the northern meeting on June 1, Ciel Butler took over on Caitlyns Wish when she made another successful visit to Wanganui – the only time anyone other than Sanson has won on the mare. Sanson was back aboard on Saturday as the pair went wire-to-wire to defeat a well-credentialled sprint field.

Plenty of pace was expected in the Mike Stent Decorators Sprint, but that script quickly went out the window when renowned front-runner Babylon Berlin bombed the start and settled at the back of the field.

Sanson seized that opportunity, going forward and dictating terms in front while another frequent leader, Johny Johny, sat just behind her in second spot.

Caitlyns Wish shook free of Johny Johny at the home turn, but then she faced another battle down the straight as Gospodin, Highlighter and Dusty Road finished strongly and ate into her advantage. Caitlyns Wish was equal to that challenge, holding out the chasing trio and winning by three-quarters of a length.

The under-rated mare is trained by Stephen Autridge, who is open to the possibility of taking on elite company while Caitlyns Wish is in such outstanding form.

“I might even look at a Foxbridge Plate (Gr.2, 1200m),” he said. “She’s in good form, she loves these sorts of track conditions and she likes it here at Te Rapa.

“It was always going to be a tactical race today, and I think we were a bit lucky with the way it worked out. We hadn’t planned to ride her that way, but Maria gets on so well with Caitlyn and she judged it well in this race.

“With those good horses right up at the top of the weights, we were all the way down on the minimum and claiming 3kg as well, so that was a big plus for us.”

The win completed a race-to-race double on the Te Rapa card for Sanson, who also won the Skycity Hamilton (1400m) with $27 outsider Barcelona. Sanson now boasts a total of 35 wins in her riding career.

“When mares like this get into form, they usually stay in form,” Sanson said. “It was a good win today. I thought Johny Johny might take me on when I went to the front, but Ngakau (Hailey) ended up sitting off me.

“She was vulnerable out in front for a long time, but she’s tough as. She just kicked too strongly. Hopefully she’ll keep running as well as this all through the winter.”

Caitlyns Wish continued a remarkable run of winter form for the former Haunui Farm shuttle stallion Belardo, who also sired fellow Te Rapa winner Barcelona along with Farravallo, who won the opening race on the card at Trentham.

Berry The Cash buries rivals in Waikato Hurdles

By Jess de Lautour, LOVERACING.NZ News Desk

Berry The Cash added another dominant hurdle victory to his ever-growing list of achievements in Saturday’s Fairview Motors Waikato Hurdle (3200m) at Te Rapa.

Prepared by Mark Oulaghan, Berry The Cash made a bold statement winning last year’s Grand National Hurdles (4200m) in his first season over fences, and he picked up where he left off in the hurdling role with a comfortable victory in the Awapuni Hurdle (3000m) last month.

The son of Jakkalberry ventured north to Te Rapa for his next assignment as a $1.70 favourite, with his closest danger returning star hurdler Nedwin at $5.80, who won last year’s Great Northern Hurdles (4200m) and started the 73kg topweight on Saturday.

In the hands of regular rider Portia Matthews, Berry The Cash settled into his work in midfield, while English Gambler soon broke away to a 15-length margin in his typical front-running style.

The lead was narrowed as the field headed down the back straight for the final time, the charge led by a cruising Berry The Cash, who got on even terms with English Gambler passing the 600m mark while the remainder of the field were well off the bridle.

Berry The Cash hit the front turning for home and the margin was extending as English Gambler fell at the second-last, leaving Matthews to guide the seven-year-old to an 11-length demolition over Smug and Lord Spencer, who fought gamely into the minor placings.

Matthews shook her head and saluted in admiration of the gelding passing the post, their partnership now spanning five wins from nine attempts. 

“He’s incredible, and we haven’t seen the end of it now,” she said.

“I ride him differently when English Gambler is in the race because I don’t want to put myself too far behind, but I know when English Gambler stops, he stops very quickly and with the ground being the way it was with the extra distance, I knew that the track was going to suit my horse better. I never panicked, and I knew it was coming up for me.

“He gets a couple of rough ones (jumps), but I’ve ridden him all the way through, so I know what to expect. We’ve worked our way over those rough ones, and he just goes phenomenally.

“He’s only a second-season jumper and Mark has been very patient with him, I can’t thank him enough for the connection with this horse and carrying on through our ups and downs.

“The group of owners have been wonderful and have supported me all of the way.”

Oulaghan had left Berry The Cash in the care of Tommy Hazlett for the meeting, a former top jump’s jockey who had major success for the stable with notable partnerships including Yourtheman and Counter Punch.

“The boss (Oulaghan) has done it again. He had a fair idea 18 months ago that this horse had a fair bit of potential, and his run the other day at Woodville was absolutely magnificent,” Hazlett said.

“Isn’t she (Matthews) riding well, she’s really turned a leaf this year. She’s relaxed, she’s not overthinking things, she sees a stride well, and she gets along with this horse absolutely fantastically,

“I was a bit worried when Portia started to chase the tearaway leader (English Gambler) at the half-mile because I had my doubts whether or not he would stay, but I’ve been away from the game a long time and I’d be far from telling her what to do.

“She’s done a great job, and he’s a serious animal this horse.”

The victory also extended Mathews’ lead atop the Jump Jockey’s Premiership with 10 wins, two ahead of Shaun Fannin. She added a further win two races later aboard stablemate Super Spirit in the day’s maiden steeplechase.

Berry The Cash has won $192,100 in stakes earnings for connections in 27 starts. 

Blackwood Star returns to form in Trentham winter feature

By Kevin Robertson, LOVERACING.NZ News Desk

Handy galloper Blackwood Star made a welcome return to winning form when she charged home against the outside rail to take out the time-honoured Hallmark & Stone Parliamentary Handicap (2200m) at Trentham.

The Dan O’Leary-trained seven-year-old had made a disappointing start to her new campaign, finishing well back in her two starts at Listed level over 1600m before tackling one of Saturday’s feature events.

Rider Kate Hercock gave the daughter of Westbury Stud-based stallion Redwood plenty of opportunity to settle into a rhythm at the back of the field, before inching her way into contention at the 600m.

The field fanned across the track entering the home straight with eventual minor placegetters Marroni and Pride Of Aspen settling into a battle for supremacy, however Hercock had Blackwood Star finishing powerfully to their outer where she swept past to win comfortably by just over a length at the line.

O’Leary who bred and races the mare with his wife Jane Nugent-O’Leary was thrilled to see his stable star return to the top step of the podium.

“It’s great to have her back,” he said.

“She just wasn’t hitting out on the firmer tracks for her first two starts and that wasn’t good for her.

“Her work has been fine, but I was wondering whether she wanted to really stretch out properly and we got that today as Kate had her in a lovely rhythm throughout.

“Now the wet tracks have really arrived I think she can hold her form as this win will give her plenty of confidence.

“In saying that I don’t have anything specific planned for her, we will just take it step by step as the opportunities present themselves.”

Bred by her owners, Blackwood Star is out of the six-race winner Miss Ana and has now won four of her own races from 19 starts for just over $120,000 in prizemoney. 

The Cossack back on top at Te Rapa

By Jess de Lautour, LOVERACING.NZ News Desk

Outstanding jumper The Cossack commenced another campaign over the fences in winning fashion as he captured Saturday’s Signature Homes Waikato Steeplechase (3900m) at Te Rapa. 

Since joining the stable of Paul Nelson and Corrina McDougal in 2020, The Cossack initially fashioned an enviable record over hurdles with prestige titles at Hawke’s Bay, Waikato, Wellington alongside a Grand National and two Great Northerns.

The son of Mastercraftsman finished a narrow second in the Australian Grand National Steeplechase (4500m) in 2022 and remained in the steeplechase format with success in last year’s Waikato Steeplechase and the Pakuranga Hunt Cup (4800m), with fellow star West Coast coming out on top in their Great Northern and Wellington battles.

His opening jumping assignment for 2024 was an attempt at back-to-back crowns at Te Rapa and he was heavily backed to do so closing the $1.40 favourite, despite giving away seven kilograms to the remainder of the five-horse field.

Hamish McNeill, who won the maiden hurdle earlier on the card with Pacheco, was entrusted with the ride on The Cossack and soon had him travelling kindly and jumping economically in front through the opening lap.

In pursuit of a winning treble on the card, jockey Portia Matthews served up the challenge to The Cossack aboard Torque Time, sitting alongside the favourite and not letting him get away with a comfortable trip while promising chaser Hey Happy bided his time in behind the duelling pair.

The Cossack and Torque Time were a significant margin ahead of Hey Happy entering the home straight but the Kevin Myers-trained galloper stormed into contention after cutting the corner, and was neck-and-neck with The Cossack jumping the final fence.

Hey Happy fought valiantly to test the qualities of The Cossack, but the star was too strong in the finish and prevailed by ¾ of a length, with Torque Time a further 20 lengths back in third.

Nelson applauded the talent of his charge after the feature, particularly with his 73kg impost.

“It was a huge effort and he does know how to fight,” Nelson said.

“I know Hamish is light, but you pick that saddle up and you think ‘poor horse, he has to carry this’, but he did it.

“He would be the best I’ve trained, and it makes it hard for the ones underneath him. I think he just knows how to win a race, he’s got a huge heart and is the best winded horse you could have.

“Thanks to Corrina, Carol and the team at home, they do a wonderful job and we’re just here collecting a bit of the spoils.”

Nelson indicated his next target would likely be the Wellington Steeplechase (5500m) on July 13, with a shot at the Grand National Steeplechase (5500m) at Riccarton Park in August also a possibility.

A thrilled McNeill shared Nelson’s high opinion of the gelding post-race.

“He (Torque Time) gave it to me, but fair play to this horse (The Cossack), he’s the best horse I’ve ever sat on,” McNeill said.

“He jumped out of the gates, dropped the bit, and knew what he wanted to do. He had to fight a bit after the last so he’ll come on from the run, and I’m really happy with that.

“He’s a warhorse, a veteran. Hey Happy is an up and coming horse that I’ve won on before and he’s a nice one for the future, but you’re not going to beat The Cossack.

“I was a passenger until after the last, then I just eased him to the line.”

The Cossack has earned north of $645,500 in stakes and 18 wins over a 58-start career, with his current ownership group including Nelson, and fellow Hawke’s Bay residents Peter and Doug Grieve, and John Frizzell.

Peter’s brother Ivan Grieve bred the ten-year-old out of his Galileo mare Stellardelmar. 

Liffey lands deserved win in North Island Challenge Stakes

By Richard Edmunds, LOVERACING.NZ News Desk

Under-rated mare Liffey stepped down from stakes company scored a tenacious win in the $40,000 Neteffext Payroll North Island Challenge Stakes (1300m) at Trentham on Saturday.

After collecting the sixth win of her career with a stylish performance at Wanganui in early May, the six-year-old daughter of Niagara took on the big guns with a seventh in the Listed Rangitikei Gold Cup (1600m) and an eighth in the Listed AGC Training Stakes (1600m).

Liffey was beaten by only 2.6 lengths by the Rangitikei Gold Cup winner Islington Lass on May 18. She finished five lengths adrift of Belardo Boy in the AGC Training Stakes, but was less than half a length from the sixth-placed Turn The Ace, who was a strong winner at Te Rapa earlier on Saturday afternoon.

Liffey stepped out as a $7.40 third favourite for Saturday’s North Island Challenge Stakes, and she produced an irresistible finish down the Trentham straight in the hands of rider Kate Hercock.

There was a changing picture out in front as firstly Chajaba, then Old Town Road and then Rocababy took turns in the lead through the first half of the race. Hercock was happy to bide her time aboard Liffey, who settled in second-last until around the 800m mark.

Hercock then brought Liffey to the outside and began to improve her position around the outside of the field. She was well within striking distance coming around the home turn, and she found the better footing down the extreme outside lane of the home straight.

Liffey moved through her gears and quickly drew up alongside the Lisa Latta-trained stablemates Old Town Road and Prioress, who both fought back gamely. That trio drew clear of the rest of the field to fight out a tight finish, but Liffey kept lifting and edged ahead to win by three-quarters of a length.

Liffey is trained in Foxton by Jim Sweetensen, who also bred her and races her with the Sweetensen Racing Syndicate. Her 38-start career has now produced seven wins, four placings and $124,847.

“I’m very happy with that, she won well today,” Sweetensen said. “She’s been racing in strong company lately and performing well. But when you’re racing against those sorts of horses, you really need to have everything go your way, and she just wasn’t quite getting that luck in the running. So I think she deserved it today and it was a very good performance.”

Liffey has proven to be particularly effective at distances around the 1300m of Saturday’s race. Her two starts over 1300m have produced two wins, while she has also been a winner over 1340m and 1360m at Wanganui.

Saturday’s win was a career-best third victory of the season for Liffey, who had previously won twice in both the 2020-21 and 2022-23 seasons. Sweetensen will now give her some deserved winter downtime.

“She’ll go to the paddock now,” he said. “We’ll bring her back and race her again later in the year, but she can have a nice break now. She’s earned it.”