New Zealand news briefs

Southern raid for Oulaghan trio

The cancellation of meetings in the Central Districts of late has hampered the preparations of Mark Oulaghan’s jumpers, but he is still hopeful of bold showings from his trio of southern raiders this weekend.

The Awapuni trainer has ventured to Riccarton where he will line-up three runners on Saturday, including West Coast in the Racecourse Hotel & Motor Lodge Koral Steeplechase (4250m).

“I thought he was a bit unlucky in the Hawke’s Bay Chase (when third). It didn’t quite pan out for him in the last 600m,” Oulaghan said.

“He jumps well and I think Riccarton will suit him. He is seven and I think he can develop into a good horse.”

West Coast is a $3.50 third favourite with TAB bookmakers behind Carnaby ($2.70) and Albaron ($2.80).

Oulaghan will also line-up Des De Jeu in the Gold Club Rating 75 (1800m) in preparation for a maiden hurdle next week.

“Des De Jeu is more of a steeplechase type. He is a good jumper and has a bit of pace, so he will run in the maiden hurdle on the middle day. I am just not sure what he will run in on the last day,” Oulaghan said.

“He has had a couple of flat runs. He was in at Hawera and we were going to run him at Waverley and Otaki, and he missed both of those runs, which is a bit detrimental but there is not a lot you can do about it.

“He has got ability, there is no doubt about that.”

Rounding out Oulaghan’s trio of runners will be Dal Kilchoan in the Avon City Ford Sydenham Hurdles (3100m).

“He has missed a few flat runs with meetings called off, but condition-wise I think he is up to the mark at this stage so we will run him in the Sydenham on Saturday and see where we are at with him,” Oulaghan said.

“It (preparation) has been a bit disjointed. We were happy enough with his run in the Wellington Hurdles for fourth. He was a wee way off them, but it was an honest run.

“If he can improve off that, and step up in grade from there, he is going to be competitive down south.”

Chevron tipped to cope with unexpected assignment

The in-form Chevron is expected to give another bold home track showing on Saturday, despite an unplanned drop back in distance.

The Ruakaka five-year-old has been in fine touch over ground in his most recent outings and circumstances have forced local trainer Chris Gibbs to change tack with the gelding.

“He’s a promising staying horse and they didn’t get enough nominations for the 2100m race so they dumped it and that’s why he’s had to come back to the mile,” he said.

Chevron will take his place in the Harcourt Series at Ruakaka (1600m) and Gibbs remains confident the son of El Roca can cope admirably at the shorter trip.

“It obviously wasn’t what he was preparing for and we’ve changed his work around a fraction so hopefully he will be sharp enough,” he said.

“I don’t really think it will be an issue, he’s fine and was very impressive over a mile at Pukekohe a few runs back.”

Chevron was a dominant winner over 1600m in late May before he crushed his rivals by 8.5l at Ruakaka over 2100m and was then third over that course and distance in an open handicap last month.

Ever So Easy will take on his stablemate on Saturday following an unplaced last-start performance in an open sprint.

“I wouldn’t be chucking him away either, over 1400m he ranged up and was then a bit one-paced so he’ll more than likely lead-up from his draw,” Gibbs said.

He will also have two representatives in the Alibaba’s Flying Carpets Kerikeri Cup (1100m) with Scarfi and Diamond Girl to take on a quality line-up that features Group One winners Entriviere and Imperatriz.

Makfi mare Scarfi has returned from an extended spell in the South Island where she won three times and Diamond Girl is racing well, but also faces a sharp rise in class.

“I sent Scarfi down to Terri Rae because she was battling a bit up here, but it turned to custard because it’s been so wet down there,” Gibbs said.

“She is a really nice mare and has been black-type placed so she will be put up for sale after a couple more runs. She’s been aimed at an open 1400m race here in two weeks’ time.”

Diamond Girl was a first-up course and distance winner before placing at her following two outings.

“In her own class I would be confident, but I didn’t want to step to a mile just yet so I’ve kept her very fresh. I’m sure she will run a nice race as she’s in beautiful order,” Gibbs said.

“It will be hard against these horses and it’s great for the club to see some Group One horses step out up here, it’s going to be exciting and the track will be beautiful.”

While Gibbs also acknowledges his debutante Malfy Rosa will face a stern test in the Alibaba’s Flying Carpets Dash (1100m), he is expecting the Burgundy three-year-old to acquit herself well.

“I wish it was a maiden, but she is a half-sister to Gin Martini who ran third in the Australian Oaks (Gr.1, 2400m) so she is an interesting runner,” he said.

“It’s tough ask against experienced horses and Stephen Autridge’s one (Alabama Gold) has drawn one so I imagine there’s only one way it will go and that’s straight to the front, but I think my filly will run well.”

Of his other representatives, Gibbs expected Cruisy Lass to be competitive in the Tim Brandon Livestock Handicap (2100m).

“She looked a bit dour last time in the three-year-old mile so she’s looking for ground and she should be right in it,” he said.

“I’ve got a bit of a mixed bag on the day really, so if I can get a winner out if it I would be happy.” 

Draw trainer’s main concern with debut runner

Brontes Gold will be given his opportunity to carry his encouraging trial form over to race day when he makes his debut at Ruakaka on Saturday.

The covers will finally come off the Zacinto four-year-old in the Alibaba’s Flying Carpets Stretch and Trim Maiden (1550m) with apprentice Elen Nicholas to aid his cause with her 2kg claim.

Trainer Trevor Da Cruz has been pleased with Brontes Gold’s work and condition leading into the gelding’s first serious test, although a factor out of his control is his major concern.

“He has looked good at the trials and is quite a handy horse, but it will be a big ask of him on Saturday having drawn 13 of 13,” he said.

“A lot will depend on a few things and how the race pans out. It’s the time of year that anywhere you go you will meet quite strong opposition and he needs to run.

“I’ve been waiting for a long time for him and a bit of experience on race day will do him the world of good.”

Da Cruz initially purchased Brontes Gold, who was offered by breeder Valachi Downs, off the Gavelhouse online platform as a two-year-old for $7,300.

He is the second foal out of the Stravinsky mare Bronte Lass, who was successful on five occasions, and is a half-brother to multiple winner and Group performer Bronte Beach.

Brontes Gold has been to the trials four times and has won his last two on the synthetic track at Cambridge with Nicholas guiding him to his most recent success over 1550m last month.

“I’ve had to wait for him, he is a perfectly fine and sound horse, and what I mean by wait is that I was hoping to trade him, but that seems quite hard at the moment so off to the races we go,” Da Cruz said.

“I am just hoping for a nice, clean run first-up and his chances will probably be determined by the pace of the race and what happens up front.”

Da Cruz will also be represented in the Dunstan Accumulator Series Handicap (2100m) by Beautifulnightmare, a relative newcomer to his Cambridge stable.

“She came to me about two months ago and I put her through her paces and she will definitely appreciate the better track,” he said.

Beautifulnightmare tailed the field home when resuming from a seven-month break in her first appearance for Da Cruz, who was forgiving of the effort on a heavy surface as the Contributer mare didn’t have the benefit of a trial.

“She had her first run at Te Rapa for me a couple of weeks ago. All the trials were pushed back with everything being so wet and she’s not a polytrack horse so she had to go to the races,” he said.

“This will be her first real test and 2100m is her trip. She has been going well enough to produce a nice run.”

Formerly with Chris Gibbs, Beautifulnightmare broke her maiden over ground as a three-year-old and also finished fifth in the Gr.3 Sunline Vase (2100m). A runner-up finish at Tauranga last spring has been her best subsequent performance. 

House claims Newcomer to Training Award

Michael House’s decision to add a thoroughbred arm to his training operation has reaped rich rewards, earning the Newcomer to Training Award for the 2021-22 New Zealand racing season.

Among trainers who operate a stable in their own right and have held a thoroughbred licence for fewer than five seasons, the award honours the trainer who saddles the most winners during the New Zealand racing season. It was won by Peter Didham in 2020-21, and Jamie Richards and Andrew Carston in the two previous seasons.

House is no newcomer to training racehorses, having been credited with more than 600 winners in a long and highly successful career in harness racing.

But he first took out his thoroughbred training licence towards the end of the 2019-20 season, and his two full seasons of training have netted nine winners – seven of them in 2021-22.

“This award is a lovely recognition for myself and for my team,” House said. “I have a great crew around me, and the success that we’ve had is something that we can all take a lot of satisfaction from.

“Our results last season were pleasing. We’ve really only got Industry-day horses at the moment, rather than Feature or Premier ones, so it’s been about trying to stay away from those better days and pick out the right races. It’s always satisfying when that plan comes off.”

House also paid tribute to, not only for its sponsorship of the award but also the boost it has provided to South Island racing.

“To me, and the Riccarton Park synthetic track are two of the biggest things to happen in South Island thoroughbred racing in recent years, and also two of the biggest things for our future,” the Prebbleton-based horseman said.

“I’ve already bought a number of horses off, and I’m also an outstanding underbidder.

“It’s been obvious in recent times that a significant proportion of our horse population in the South Island is made up of horses bought through It gives stables like ours an opportunity to access a much wider range of horses than we would have ever had before, and in price ranges that are affordable. It’s been a game-changer for us. Every Monday night sale on is an unmissable event for me, and I’m very grateful for it.”

Although he is a relatively new name among thoroughbred training ranks, House has a long-standing connection with the code.

“I’ve always been a thoroughbred man,” he said. “Back when I was 13, I started riding work in Reefton for Dennis Cutbush. Through the years that followed, I made a number of road trips all around the South Island, towing his float. This would be 40-odd years ago now, but I had a wonderful time with him.

“There was no such thing as professional sport in those days, so when the time came to choose a career, I decided that I was going to be a racing man. But I ended up turning my back on the thoroughbreds on that stage, because I knew I was too big to be a jockey.

“I went into the standardbreds instead. Peter Jones was the legendary junior driver on the scene at that time, and I thought I could follow in his footsteps and change the world.

“But it was very hard to establish yourself in those days. The reality in harness racing was that if you weren’t related to someone, it was a very, very difficult scene to break into at that time. It may well have been a similar story with thoroughbreds at that stage too.

“But I was determined that I wasn’t going to fail, and I started training some standardbreds and enjoyed a bit of early success.

“Around the same time as each other, both Cran Dalgety and I both went out and started advertising for horses, which I think might have shaken up the establishment a little bit. We both ended up building up big teams of horses and winning a lot of races.

“I also had some great success on the breeding side of things with Roydon Lodge, standing stallions such as the multiple premiership winner Sundon. In terms of Group One winners, he actually sired more than Sir Tristram and Zabeel combined. He never stood for the sort of service fee they did of course, it was more about just getting the bulk numbers. But it was very special to be involved with a champion sire like him.

“Throughout all of this, though, I always continued my involvement on the thoroughbred side of things. I’ve had ownership interests in a number of horses – one of the most memorable was the outstanding jumper Jackfrost, who we had a fantastic time racing along with a great syndicate of owners.

“There was also a mare that I bought in partnership with Sheldon Murtha, called Lady Chanele. She won a couple of races and then became a lovely broodmare that we bred from, particularly with her best daughter Ombre Rose.

“We won multiple stakes races with Ombre Rose and then bred from her as well, and one of the catalysts for me getting into training thoroughbreds was that I really wanted to train some of Ombre Rose’s progeny.

“I’ve now got her daughters by Zacinto and Zed, so I have one from a more speed-oriented sire and one with a bit more stamina. It’s very exciting to have them.

“I’m hopeful now that my future will be along those sorts of lines. But the other factor in moving me into the thoroughbred side of things came from my other business, which is a vet business.

“My partner in that business has done a lot of work for John Street over a long period of time. I happened to suggest to John that if he ever had thoroughbreds that he thought would be suited to racing in the South Island, he should give me a call. That’s what he did one day, and that’s what really got us underway.

“I’ve got 12 thoroughbreds now, and a number of great people around me – including Nicci Brown and a bloke called Chris Johnson. He’s been a great jockey over a long period of time, and he’s probably reached the stage of his career now where he benefits from the loyalty and the riding fees that I can offer him. In exchange for that, I really appreciate the experience that he brings. We make a good team.

“My thoroughbred stable is growing at a rate that I probably hadn’t really planned on, but at the same time, I’m open to that. We’ll just have to wait and see what the future holds.”

Lowry and Cullen partnership comes to an end

Trainers Guy Lowry and Grant Cullen have decided to go their separate ways after a successful 13-year partnership that yielded 235 wins, including three Group One victories.

The split is an amicable one, with Lowry carrying on operating his Game Lodge Stables in Hastings while Cullen will concentrate on the training and thoroughbred rehabilitation property he and his partner Nikki Lourie operate just north of Dannevirke.

Lowry and Cullen joined forces in 2009 after each had been training on their own for several years, both with good success. 

Cullen had produced Miss Bailey for an all the way win in the 1999 Gr.1 Wellington Cup (3200m) while Lowry’s much smaller team back then included the eight-time winner Lilakyn, who went down by a nose when second in the 2007 Gr.2 Brisbane Cup (2400m).

Included in the partnerships 235 wins together are 13 at Group or Listed level, with the three Group One victories including the 2014 Telegraph Handicap (1200m) with Irish Fling, the 2016 Telegraph Handicap with Adventador and the 2017 Livamol Classic (2040m) with Wait A Sec.

Lowry and Cullen’s best season together was in 2018/19 when they saddled up 25 winners, while the season before that they chalked up three black-type successes among their 16 wins.

The stable is also a noted trader of horses.

Lowry said this week he and Cullen have enjoyed a great time training together and they are both proud of the success they have achieved.

“It has been a very enjoyable partnership and, despite Grant being based in Central Hawke’s Bay, he has been a great support for the stable. Without that we wouldn’t have achieved what we have done,” he said. 

“Special thanks must go to him and Nikki for the work they have done in spelling and preparing our horses on their property and for transporting our team to the various race meetings, trials and jumpouts.

“It has been a great team effort and I wish Grant and Nikki every success in their future business endeavours and I will continue to support them in their operation.

“They have done a lot of rehabilitation in the past and Grant has a few of his own horses to train and does a terrific job. We’re still really good mates.”

Lowry is looking forward to a productive spring but admits most of his team are younger and he hasn’t got anything nominated for the legs of the Hawke’s Bay Triple Crown and will have a number of horses more suited to peak at Riccarton in November.    

Among the stable’s better gallopers are Wewillrock, who won three of his seven starts at three and has returned in good order. 

“We will pick out some targets but he will be seen in Rating 75 grade before he steps up.

“I would have liked to have had him there for the first day of the Hawke’s Bay Carnival, but I don’t think he will be ready in time and he might be there for the second day.

“A race for him is probably something like the Pegasus Stakes (Listed, 1000m) at Riccarton.” 

Stakes winning mare Can I Get An Amen is back in pretraining and will be aimed at the Gr.3 Lindauer Stewards Stakes (1200m) at Riccarton on November 12, while year-younger stablemate Shezzacatch is likely to be seen at Hawke’s Bay before also targeting a race like the Stewards. 

Lowry is keen to build the confidence of Love Letter, who has won one of her six starts but was Group Three placed in the Desert Gold Stakes (1600m) behind star filly La Crique. 

“I certainly think she is one that needs to get a bit of confidence. She has a bit of black-type so we just need to work her through her grades and we will be looking at black-type fillies and mares races in the future,” he said. 

Meanwhile, promising four-year-old mare Candle, an impressive winner of two of her three starts, won’t be seen this spring after a veterinary issue came to light when a potential sale was pending. 

“She will probably come back into work in the Autumn. She never went lame or had an issue but she was being sold for a lot of money and x-rayed up with a bit of a pastern issue so we decided to give her plenty of time to get over it,” Lowry said.