Te Akau Racing principal David Ellis has just one word to summarise the 2019/20 season – thrilling.
The tangerine and blue army were to the fore on both sides of the Tasman, posting 12 Group One wins for the season and clinching the New Zealand Trainers’ Premiership for Jamie Richards with 101 wins.
It was Richards’ first premiership title in a solo capacity, having previously won it in the 2015/16 term in partnership with Stephen Autridge.
“It was a huge thrill to win 12 Group One races in one season - nine in New Zealand, one in Melbourne, and two in Sydney,” Ellis said.
Ellis identified Avantage’s win in the Gr.1 Bonecrusher New Zealand Stakes (2000m) at Ellerslie in March as a season highlight, as he said it showed the training prowess of Richards.
“With Avantage’s win, it was also Jamie’s 32nd Group One win,” Ellis said. “For a guy who is only 30 to have won 32 Group One races is something pretty special.
“It’s not easy to train a horse to win a Group One at 1200m, 1400m, 1600m, and 2000m, but that’s what she did.”
The stable was in a purple patch of form over that period and gave Ellis and his owners more feature victories to celebrate.
“It was quite freakish over three Saturdays in the first part of the year,” Ellis said. “Firstly, we went to the Karaka Million and won both the million dollar races, with Probabeel becoming the first horse to win both Karaka Million races.
“Cool Aza Beel became our fourth Karaka Million (2YO) winner in a row.
“A month later we won two Group Ones in Sydney within half an hour with Te Akau Shark (Chipping Norton Stakes, 1600m) and Probabeel (Surround Stakes, 1400m).
“The next Saturday we won two Group Ones at Ellerslie within an hour with Cool Aza Beel (Sistema Stakes, 1200m) and Avantage (Bonecrusher New Zealand Stakes).”
While Te Akau experienced many highs in the early part of 2020, Ellis said he was delighted to see 10-time Group One winner Melody Belle make history last spring.
“This season she won four Group Ones and was the first horse to win the triple crown at Hawke’s Bay,” he said.
“She won a Sires’ Produce (Gr.2, 1400m) in Australia as a two-year-old and to go on and be in career best form at five is a huge kudos towards Jamie for the way he is training the horses.
“She is an example of the sort of horse that we want to buy. Horses that can race at two and go on and be better at three, four, and five.”
While Ellis was pleased with his team’s efforts this season he is looking forward to spring where Te Akau will welcome their next wave of two-year-olds and will also have a strong Australian-based team, headed by travelling foreman Ashley Handley.
“We are really lucky that we decided to keep Ashley Handley over in Australia and she is doing a fantastic job,” Ellis said. “We will be sending more horses over to her in the next few weeks to join Melody Belle and Probabeel.
“We couldn’t be more happy with the way they are coming up in Australia, they are absolutely thriving.”
Ellis was once again the leading buyer at New Zealand Bloodstock’s National Yearling Sale in January and he said the stable will be gunning for a fifth consecutive Karaka Million 2YO (1200m) victory next year.
“We have got the best bunch of young horses that we have ever had and we are really looking forward to getting them out,” he said.
“They have all been through the system on two occasions. Most of them are out in the paddock now, but they will be coming back in and will be ready to trial in September and October.”
Te Akau had a big team in at the Te Rapa trials on Tuesday, with Group Three-winning two-year-old Need I Say More particularly impressing with his 2-1/2 length victory in his 970m heat.
“Need I Say More is a very smart horse,” Ellis said. “He is unbeaten and is coming up well. He will be a definite 2000 Guineas (Gr.1, 1600m) horse.”
Jamie Richards , picture Trish Dunell
Best season to date for Carston
Riccarton trainer Andrew Carston is looking forward to kicking off the new racing season at Ashburton on Saturday, following a 10th place finish in the 2019-20 trainers’ premiership.
Carston, who trains between 30 and 35 horses, had 30 wins, three at black-type level.
“A top 10 finish is obviously a great result,” Carston said.
“It’s an honour just to see my name amongst so many great trainers who I have a lot of respect for.”
Carston said the improving quality of his equine team and his dedicated staff were key to his success.
“It’s been a natural progression from when I started,” he said. “As we’ve won more races it’s attracted more owners and better-quality horses.
“Go Racing have been great too, supporting me with quality yearlings and I’ve also had a bit of luck buying the odd cheap one myself.
“I also have a really good team of staff, both riders and ground staff. We all get along well and work hard and I believe that in racing the more you put in the more you get out of it.”
Carston’s season highlight was Miss Federer’s win in the Listed NZB Airfreight Stakes 3YO (1400m) at Wingatui.
“Mainly because she hadn’t been going that well and to win on her grand final day was just a huge result,” he said.
Miss Federer is due to return to Carston’s barn in a couple of weeks, with the Listed Pegasus Stakes (1000m) and Gr.3 Stewards Stakes Handicap (1200m) during New Zealand Cup Week in November her main spring targets.
Carston’s other stakes wins came in the form of Ticket To Ride in the Gr.3 Valachi Downs Canterbury Breeders’ Stakes (1400m) and Miss Federer’s win in the Listed New Zealand Bloodstock Canterbury Belle Stakes (1200m) in September.
While his equine team has had a good season, the breakout star of the stable has been apprentice jockey Kozzi Asano, who took out the New Zealand apprentice jockey’s premiership.
“Having Kozzi on the team has been really rewarding as well and it’s helped having an in-form jockey who knows the horses well,” Carston said.
Looking ahead to the new season Carston is hoping to continue the momentum of 2019-20 and win more stakes races.
“We have a couple of quite nice horses that I’m hoping can continue to step up the grades,” he said.
“Caitlyn Jay and Where’s Wally have both had one start for one win so you can’t knock them, and I think they could progress, and Hunua Hank could be an emerging stayer in the South Island.”
Two of those horses will step out at Ashburton on Saturday - Where’s Wally in the Quigley contracting (1200m) and Hunua Hank in the Brand & Gunn Want The Return of Trackside Radio (1600m).
“Where’s Wally was an impressive winner on debut last start,” Carston said. “He’s drawn the outside gate so he will need some luck, but he’s a definite winning chance.
“Hunua Hank is out of his grade and getting very little weight relief. The open condition races are not really suiting him at the moment, but he is a nice horse and he won well last start, so he does deserve to be there. He’s probably looking for a little bit further, but this run will decide what path we take with him.”
Carston also has Keep Quiet in the Ryal Bush Transport Maiden (1600m), Highly Polished and Miss Oaks in the Corchranes of Canterbury Maiden (1600m), Reliably Perky in the Rural Transport (2200m) and Apellido and Sanctify in the Barnswood Farm Stakes Day 18th October (1600m).
“Keep Quiet is unlucky not to have won a race before now,” he said. “The slightly better track conditions are my only concern, but it does look to be a very winnable race for him.
“Highly Polished and Miss Oaks were both a bit disappointing last start but I’ve put blinkers back on Highly Polished and Miss Oaks has the tongue tie on. She is backing up from Saturday but she’s bounced through the run well. They’re both better than their last starts and are place chances.
“Reliably Perky was a good last start winner albeit in a maiden race with only five other runners. She’s drawn a bad gate (17) and I’m a little concerned that the track will be a bit firm for her.
“Apellido is a chance, she got away with murder in front last start and won well, but she’s drawn a bad gate (17) this week so we won’t be going forward with her this time.
“Sanctify has been a bit disappointing, but we’ve taken her blinkers off and we’re stepping her up to a mile, Chris Johnson will ride from a good gate. She’s an each way chance.”