New Zealand news briefs

Spring in steps of star gallopers

Group One targets await stablemates Probabeel and Sword Of State in Australia later this year and they took their first serious steps this afternoon toward spring goals with trial outings on the all-weather track at Cambridge.

Trainer Jamie Richards was well-represented during the day with crack mare Avantage also in action and she will be chasing elite level titles at home while Entriviere is likely to campaign in Sydney.

Probabeel settled in a handy spot off the fence in her open 800m heat and she wasn’t pressured by rider Opie Bosson to hold her ground in the run home to finish third behind the Stephen McKee-trained O’Charm.

“Probabeel is a bit lazy and doesn’t often trial that well and it was probably a bit the same today,” Richards said. “She saves her best for race day and that will bring her on. She’ll trial again and then go to Melbourne.”

Her first-up assignment has yet to be confirmed, but the Gr.1 Memsie Stakes (1400m) on August 28 is in the mix.

Sword Of State sat in behind the pace in his 800m heat before peeling four wide at the top of the straight and was allowed to run home under his own steam by Bosson to finish a close second.

“He trialled well and did everything nicely, he’s a good-doing colt and a chance to go straight to Sydney,” Richards said.

“The Gr.3 San Domenico Stales and the Gr.2 Run To The Rose Stakes are a couple of nice races for him - he is a 1200 to 1400 metre horse.”

Sword Of State has won four of his five starts and following his victory in the Gr.1 Sistema Stakes (1200m) at Ellerslie, future standing rights in the son of Snitzel were secured by Cambridge Stud.

Richards lined up six runners in another of the open 800m heats, which was won by Clinton Isdale’s Bring It On with Te Akau’s Entriviere arriving late for second and Avantage was third.

“Entriviere always trials with a fair bit of purpose. It was a nice trial and she’ll probably go to Sydney and make use of her handicap rating, we’ll stay away from the weight-for-age stuff,” Richards said.

“Avantage also trialled well and she’ll trial again and then have an exhibition before she runs first-up in the Gr.3 Foxbridge Plate.” 

Surprise hometown advantage for Nelson jumpers

The prospect of better ground in their own neighbourhood has seen leading jumps trainers Paul Nelson and Corrina McDougal direct three of their charges toward the rescheduled Wellington prestige jumps races on Thursday.

With bad weather causing the abandonment of Trentham’s major winter raceday last Saturday, the Hydra-Cell Pumps Wellington Hurdle (3100m) and the Grant Plumbing Wellington Steeplechase (5500m) have been moved to Hastings.

The only scheduled runner in these features at Trentham for Nelson and McDougal was No Tip in the hurdle. But with the shifting of the venue, they have entered The Cossack and No Change for the Hurdle, which has been reduced from 3400m to 3100m with the venue change, and Shackletons Edge for the steeplechase.

All three of the new contenders should appreciate what are likely to be less heavy conditions at Hastings than was expected at Trentham.

The Cossack is the best-performed of the trio in the Wellington Hurdle, having won the Great Northern Hurdle (4190m) last year and this year adding the Waikato Hurdle (3200m) to their resume.

He was scheduled to run in another prestige jumping race, the Hawke’s Bay Hurdle (3100m) on July 3, but he wasn’t quite healthy for it.

“His blood wasn’t quite up to scratch before that, so we had to pull him out, but he’s ready for this now,” Nelson said.

No Change is something of a Hastings specialist, having run six hurdle races at the track for three victories and three second-place finishes. They include winning the Hawke’s Bay Hurdle in 2019 and runner-up in the same race this year to Tommyra, who is also entered for Thursday’s contest.

“Obviously The Cossack’s record is pretty good, but No Change has got a really good record on the Hastings track so they are both capable of running well,” Nelson said.

No Tip is one that would have relished heavy going at Trentham, having won the Wellington Hurdle two years ago, but with the move to Hastings he will now contest the Farmers Transport Mile (1650m).

“I’ve just looked at the forecast and the weather’s going to be pretty good through until Thursday. We’ll look at the conditions but he wants heavy ground,” Nelson said.

Shackletons Edge has raced just once over big fences, thrashing a maiden field over 4000m at Hastings on July 3, and he faces a steep rise in distance and class on Thursday.

“It’s probably a bit early but he’s had a couple of runs at Hastings and they’ve both been good and his debut was pretty good,” Nelson said.

“It’s a lot further and it’s a better class of horse, but we’re going to run him and see how he goes.”

Nelson has had to do this winter without his regular jockey, Aaron Kuru, who has stayed in Australia due to the uncertainty around COVID-19 travel restrictions.

“It hasn’t been easy because he did all our riding, but Shaun Phelan’s been really good, he’s helped us out, and Hamish McNeill has been great too.”

Nelson said he might take The Cossack and Shackletons Edge to the Grand National carnival at Riccarton next month, though that will depend on how they recover from Thursday’s racing.

After that will come the Great Northern meeting at Ellerslie, which will be a bittersweet occasion for the jumps racing fraternity as it’s likely to be the last to feature races over the famous Ellerslie steeplechase hill, which is set to be sold as part of the Auckland-Counties merger.

Nelson said it was a huge shame that the hill was being sold, and he wanted to be sure a significant amount of the proceeds should be re-invested in jumps racing.

“It’s very sad. The hill is world-renowned, and I feel that the hill actually belongs to jumping and not to flat racing, and I feel jumping should be recognised financially in that way.” 

Patience paying dividends for Mirabelli

Patience is paying off for Cambridge trainer Paul Mirabelli with his much-improved gelding Charred, and it may lead to a tilt at the Gr.3 New Zealand Cup (3200m) in November.

It took 39 starts for Charred to win his first race, in a maiden highweight at Tauranga on April 21. But there’s a solid chance it will be start 44, scheduled to be in the Rating 74 Avondale Sunday Markets (2100m) at Avondale on Wednesday, when he records his third.

Following his highweight victory at Tauranga, Charred finished third in a 2600m Rating 65 contest at New Plymouth before winning a 2200m highweight at Pukekohe. A fifth-place finish in a jumpers highweight at Wanganui followed before he finished a very good second to Divine Duke in the Kiwifruit Cup (2100m) in open handicap company.

“He was always quite a wild young horse, a real rebel who wanted to get out of work all the time. We almost didn’t race him because he was so difficult,” Mirabelli said.

“But this time he’s obviously matured in the head and he’s being a perfect angel, and it’s showing in his races.”

Charred was due to contest the Parliamentary Handicap at Trentham last Saturday and made the trip down from Cambridge. However, Mirabelli was sufficiently worried about the weather to nominate him for Avondale, which proved a wise decision after the Trentham meeting was abandoned.

“I thought he was going to be a big chance in the Parliamentary, so surely he’s going to be a big chance at Avondale,” he said.

Charred’s best form to date has been on heavy ground, where he’s won twice and placed eight times from 13 starts. Although his record on better ground is for no wins and four placings from 30 starts, Mirabelli said he’s not averse to firmer tracks, especially over more ground, hence the potential Riccarton bid.

“We’re thinking maybe the New Zealand Cup if we get time to have a little break and the weather forecast has a little bit of give in the ground,” he said.

“His gallop work on the Polytrack at Cambridge is excellent, and that’s a good firm surface. He’s just not quite as quick, though over two miles you don’t need to be as quick. He’s run once over 3200m and placed and he’ll run all day.”

Charred’s dam Dancing Embers, who Mirabelli trained with Graeme Thomas, also ran in a New Zealand Cup, finishing unplaced. Dancing Embers has also produced another winner for Mirabelli in the form of Ember Attack, victorious at Ruakaka in early May.

Mirabelli isn’t quite sure of the path he’ll take with Charred, but he said the gelding was likely to have a few starts on his way.

“He’s still got lots and lots of energy. It’s really hard to contain him, so we’ve got to race him or keep him in hard work or he’d get above himself quite quickly.”

Mirabelli initially developed his passion for horses through equestrian sports but eventually found his way into racing. He worked for some time with Gai Waterhouse in Sydney before training in partnership with Roger James for a few seasons. He then trained with Thomas before taking up training on his own account at the start of the 2013-14 season.

Mirabelli, whose team numbers 10, is having one of his most successful seasons to date on the track, equalling his previous best of seven victories and recording his highest prizemoney earnings as a solo trainer.

He also recorded his first prestige race victory when The Midnight Shift, subsequently sold to Australia, won the Hawke’s Bay Hurdle (3100m) last September.

“Unfortunately the younger and better horses have to sell, so that makes it hard for somebody that’s wanting to establish themselves as a trainer when some of the better progeny goes, though that’s not just me in New Zealand,” he said.

“I’m pleased with the results with what I’ve had this season, and we’ve also made a couple of good sales.” 

2021 National Breeding Awards

The Ebbett VW 2021 NZTBA National Breeding Awards will be held at the Mystery Creek Events Centre on Saturday, 21st August.

The gala event will recognise the 19 individual Group One winners bred by New Zealand-based breeders, who between them won 30 elite races in Australasia.

The winners of the Sir Patrick and Justine Lady Hogan Breeder of the Year, Eight Carat Broodmare of the Year, and the three Champion stallion trophies - Dewar (Australasian earnings), Centaine (Worldwide earnings) and Grosvenor (New Zealand earnings) -  will also be crowned.

In addition, the winners of the Mary Lynne Ryan Young Achiever and the Personality of the Year will be announced.

This year a new award has been added to the trophy line up – the Luigi Muollo Small Breeder of the Year.

The award will recognise a New Zealand breeder, whose operation consists of a small broodmare band, who has represented true breeding merit in quality of racing performance during the year in review.

“It is fantastic that Luigi saw fit to sponsor this award in recognising a breeder who has a smaller broodmare band but still achieves at elite level,” New Zealand Thoroughbred Breeders’ Association chief executive Justine Sclater said.  

“We have commissioned a perennial trophy from artist Nicola Lewis on behalf of Luigi. We are also excited to present in person the Breeder and Broodmare trophies that Joan Egan made possible last year.

“I’d also like to acknowledge the vision and support of the Waikato Branch of the NZTBA in making this a National event for all New Zealand breeders to come together and celebrate a stellar year of breeding achievements.”

The evening will be hosted by MC's Steve Davis and Emily Bosson with guests able to enjoy Quartz Reef bubbles and canapes on arrival, followed by a gourmet plated main meal and dessert paired with wine from NZTBA sponsor, Soho.

A range of items will be on offer this year during the silent and live auctions with guests able to bid on the night.

As part of the weekend’s events, the Waikato branch of the NZTBA will also host the 2021 Stallion Parade.

The tour will take in around 13 stud farms and view more than 35 stallions on offer to breeders for the upcoming breeding season.