New Zealand news briefs

Nicholas scores Avondale treble

Apprentice jockey Elen Nicholas experienced her best day in the saddle at Avondale on Wednesday, riding home a treble of winners.

The Welsh national had yet to record a double, let alone a treble, prior to Wednesday, and was duly animated with her results.

“I was in a bit of shock,” Nicholas said. “It was my first double and then to get one more later on the day, to get a treble, was great.”

Nicholas recorded her first win of the day aboard Bouffant in the Westbrook Cellar Door 1600 before guiding Apatchee Power home to win the AJC Trials 9 September 1400. She was saluting the judge just two races later when victorious aboard Bergamo Fox in the Tulloch Café 1200.

“I was expecting Bergamo Fox to win, but the other two I was hoping that they would run a place, but I didn’t expect them to win. It was a really great day.”

Still coming down from the high of Wednesday, Nicholas is looking forward to a busy weekend where she will be riding at New Plymouth on Saturday and Oamaru on Sunday.

Nicholas has a handful of rides at New Plymouth, including last start winner Le Sablier in the Listed Powerworx Opunake Cup (1400m).

“It’s pretty cool that I managed to get on Le Sablier in the Opunake Cup. She is a last start winner, so hopefully she will go well,” she said.

“I am also excited about the horse of Aaron Bidlake’s, Rocktilyoudrop (in the Sandfords Rural Carriers DC 100 Maiden, 1800m), I won on him at Waverley last start, and he will love that heavy track. I know it is a bit of a stronger race, but he should go well.

“Husk is a last start winner as well. I haven’t ridden them, but he won well on a heavy track at Te Aroha, and My Gift is a really good horse and the three-kilo claim on him will help a lot.”

After the conclusion of racing on Saturday, Nicholas will join fellow jockey Lisa Allpress on the long trek down to Oamaru.

“I am going to go down to Wellington after New Plymouth with Lisa Allpress. We are going to fly down on Sunday morning and David Walsh (former jockey and NZTR South Island riding master) is going to take us to the races,” Nicholas said.

“That will be really interesting to talk with him. He offered to give me a hand at looking at the course. I have watched replays from there and it is pretty interesting, there is a bit of a rise as you come out of the gates and from the 800m you are downhill.

“The bit of insight will be good.”

Nicholas will have four rides at the southern track, led by the Shaun and Craig Phelan-trained Quiz Kid in the Crombie And Price LTD Oamaru Cup (1600m).

“I am stoked to be riding him, he is such a cool horse. He should go well hopefully,” she said.

Nicholas is enjoying a good run of late and is enjoying riding in her adopted home of New Zealand.

Hailing from Wales, the 24-year-old was first drawn to horses as a child.

“Since I was a little kid I have always wanted to be a jockey,” Nicholas said.

“When I was 10-years-old I kept bugging my mum to get a pony and she said I should go up to the lady who lives up the road and ask her if I muck out her stables could I ride her horse?

“Her horse was a 16-year-old broodmare who hadn’t been broken in. She taught me to ride on her and I ended up taking her to pony club, but I used to fall off all the time.”

Aboard that mare, Nicholas fell in love with riding and was intent on making her passion a career. However, with no link to racing she took to the internet to find a pathway into the industry.

“I remember finishing my GCSEs and my parents were pretty keen for me to go off to university, but I was pretty stubborn not to,” Nicholas said.

“I googled how to become a jockey and the British Racing School website came up. I enrolled in a six-week course and they put you in a racing stable at the end of the course. I worked for a trainer in Wales.

“I rode in point-to-point races, which is amateur jumps racing. I did that for a few years and loved it, but it was more of a hobby, you would never make any money out of it.”

Like many young adults, Nicholas started to get itchy feet and felt the urge to travel, so answered a job advertisement from a jumps trainer on the opposite side of the globe.

“Paul Nelson put up an advert up on Facebook and I took that job and the rest is history,” she said.

“I went back to Wales and sold all of my gear. I owned a few horses and sold them and came back out here and started to work for Andrew Campbell to begin my apprenticeship.

“I injured myself and I transferred over to Craig and Shaun Phelan when I came back from injury, and I am enjoying it.

“I have been in New Zealand for three years all up and I absolutely love it here.” 

Wellington Hurdle victory for The Cossack

The transfer of the Hydra-cell Pumps Wellington Hurdle (3100m) and Grant Plumbing Wellington Steeplechase (5500m) to Hastings on Thursday has worked in the favour of local trainers Paul Nelson and Corrina McDougal.

With the abandonment of Trentham’s meeting last Saturday, the two prestige jumps races were transferred to Hastings, resulting in Nelson and McDougal entering a couple of original absentees from the two features.

The Cossack was one of those entered for the rescheduled Wellington Hurdle, with his trainers believing he would thrive on the better surface of his home track.

Under a cool ride from Shaun Phelan, The Cossack settled towards the rear of the field, with Zac Brown setting a solid tempo up front.

At the 800m mark star jumper Tallyho Twinkletoe made his move for the lead. He kicked clear of the field by a couple of lengths turning for home with jockey Shaun Fannin taking a peek over his shoulder to see The Cossack stalking them.

The Cossack drew level with Tallyho Twinkletoe just strides after the final hurdle, with the son of Mastercraftsman continuing his run to win by 1-1/2 lengths over a game Tallyho Twinkletoe, with a further three-quarters of a length back to Aigne in third.

The victory was The Cossack’s third consecutive prestige hurdle victory after winning the Great Northern Hurdle (4190m) last October and Waikato Hurdle (3200m) in May.

His connections were duly thrilled with the result and will now need to map out his future racing plans over the coming weeks, with targets on both sides of the Tasman in the mix.

“It was a really good run, he sat out the back and just let them go crazy up front. The other horse (Tallyho Twinkletoe) did have five kilos more, but it was a great run,” McDougal said.

“I imagine he will stick to hurdling at the moment, but we will sit down and talk about things and where he goes.”

Stablemate Shackeltons Edge was also a noticeable absentee from Saturday’s Wellington Steeplechase, however, he too was entered in the rescheduled edition and rewarded his trainers’ faith.

The Wellington Steeplechase proved to be a battle of attrition, with only three of the seven runners seeing out the 5500m contest.

Shackeltons Edge turned for home with a length advantage over even-priced favourite Yardarm. The pair entered a grueling duel down the home straight and only the judge could separate the pair, with Yardarm getting up by a nose over his adversary.

Despite beaten into second, McDougal was over the moon with the heart shown by Shackeltons Edge in what was his second steeplechase start.

“It was a bloody good effort,” McDougal said.

“With the track being firmer we thought he would quite like that. It was always a big step-up in distance (after winning his maiden steeplechase over 4000m at Hastings last start).

“His last start run was good, but it was a great run to step-up into that company and do that.

“Everyone is a bit blown away with what he has done in his last two runs.”

Pop Star Princess aiming to bow out a winner

Cambridge trainer Fred Cornege is refusing to get involved in the sentiment surrounding stable star Pop Star Princess' likely final start for the stable in Saturday's Listed Powerworx Opunake Cup (1400m) at New Plymouth.

Cornege and his wife Lindsay train and share the racing ownership of Pop Star Princess with Pat and Sue Calnan but their lease expires at the end of the month, so Saturday's feature is set to be the Makfi six-year-old mare's swansong for the stable.

A winner of 10 of her 40 starts, Pop Star Princess has won twice at stakes level in the Gr.3 Rotorua Stakes (1400m) and Listed Tauranga Classic (1400m) earlier in her current preparation.

"Lindsay and the grandkids love her. I don't get emotionally involved in the horses. I look after them. But there will be an empty space for a day or two when she leaves," Cornege said.

"If she could win on Saturday, then it's more money in the bank, but it would be the icing on the cake. She's been fantastic to me and Lindsay. She's been a horse of a lifetime."

While Cornege wasn't completely ruling out backing up Pop Star Princess in the open sprint at Rotorua on Saturday week, he was approaching the Opunake Cup as her final run for the stable and was delighted with her condition for the assignment.

"I am very pleased with her work, she generally doesn't do much. She's a very fit horse now and we know what she's capable of," he said.

"If she can get the run of the race to suit her, they'll know she's been there. She never runs a bad one."

A Heavy11 track is wetter than Pop Star Princess prefers but her wins in the Rotorua and Tauranga fillies and mares features were both on Heavy11 tracks and her frontrunning racing style means she avoids any kickback from the track. 

"She prefers it better but it's her swansong. The lease expires at the end of the month and under normal circumstances she'd be in the paddock and coming up for spring races but we are getting as much out of her as we can at this point," Cornege said.

"Jonathan (Riddell) has had two rides on her for two wins and he knows how to ride her. If anything wants to be smart and take her on, they usually do at their own peril.

"We tried to take a sit once at Avondale and she pulled up so we put that down to a bad experience. It's the way she runs and there's no point changing it. The proof is in the pudding - it works."

TAB bookmakers have Pop Star Princess as a $9 fifth favourite for the Opunake Cup in a market headed by Spring Tide at $4 and Justaskme at $4.20.

Asked to pick a highlight of Pop Star Princess' career, Cornege said: "The Group Three has to be but it's just her dominance when she wins. From 40 starts, she's won 10 times and nine times run second. You can't wish for better than that."