From the Commentary Box 6 June 2016

I’ve done my dash.

Welcome to the last column from “The Commentary Box”. Although it may come as a surprise to some, (and just pure relief to others), I think it is time to bow out.

An ever increasing workload and a pretty hectic schedule has made the task of a weekly racing column increasingly difficult.

At times, I’ve even gone missing in action, causing unnecessary stress to a few editors along the way. I was trying to work out how long I’d been writing this column. But I’m hopeless at that sort of thing.

I wished I’d been able to state categorically how many years ago I started writing this weekly column for the Cambridge Edition. Then I would have worked out how many columns I’d written. Followed by how many words I’d written.

It’s the sort of thing I’ve read when someone calls it a day.

And I thought maybe my avid readers of this column, (all three of them) would nod their head approvingly. Almost like a “well done son” sort of thing.

But as I said earlier, I’m hopeless at that sort of stuff.

Seriously though, I’ve enjoyed bringing you the successes from the Cambridge region in the thoroughbred world. It’s been a privilege. I’ve tried to encapsulate those successes both here and abroad.

It hasn’t been easy at times, because contrary to popular belief, I am not a journalist. What I know about journalism you could write on the back of a postage stamp.

I was always at the mercy of the sub editors changing my column to make them more “user friendly” for readers.

But I enjoyed following the fortunes of some of the big names in the thoroughbred code.

Names like DUNDEEL, SILENT ACHIEVER, VEYRON, Baker, McDonald, Hogan and many, many others.
I’ve always marvelled at the skill and expertise of many in the Cambridge racing fraternity. And not just the stars too.

I got a great kick out of the success of the so called battlers. People and horses who rose above their perceived station, and kicked on to enjoy their spot in the limelight.

The 100 to 1 outsider who wins a Group One race against all odds. And it happens in this game, think EL SOLDADO in this year’s Barfoot & Thompson Auckland Cup at Ellerslie.

I’m hopeful the Cambridge Edition will find someone to continue this column.
The success from Cambridge certainly deserves it. I look forward to calling home all those future Cambridge winners.

Here’s to even more success!

Cheers ……. and I won’t catch you next week!!

George.

From the Commentary Box 30 May 2016

Shane Crawford knows PARALLEL UNIVERSE is on borrowed time.

The three year old DARCI BRAHMA gelding was again impressive when winning at Ellerslie on Saturday. Crawford revealed after the win the tremendous interest from potential buyers. “I’m pretty sure he’ll be sold and after today’s win it will be sooner rather than later.” said Crawford.

The phone was ringing after PARALLEL UNIVERSE had scored an impressive debut win at his only other previous start, prior to Saturday’s victory. “He’s a good horse this bloke.” said rider Leith Innes on dismounting.

“He started to gawk around over the last 150m but he was never going to get beaten.” said Innes. PARALLEL UNIVERSE comfortably held runner up MR LUIGI and third placegetter DARCI GLITTER.

Owned by Hong Kong based Tony Chan, Crawford was sure the promising gelding will head to Hong Kong. “Tony hasn’t got enough permits to race him up there himself, so that’s why he’ll probably be sold.” said Crawford. Crawford paid $85,000 for the horse as a weanling for Chan. “Where ever he ends up, he’ll make the grade, that’s for sure.” said Crawford.

After calling EKAROSA home in a close finish at Ellerslie, I mentioned the owners would have been doing “handstands”. Two of the owners are local Cambridge identities, Sherryn Hobbs and Neil Rutherford.

The Paul Mirabelli trained mare held on by a nose in a desperate finish encouraged all the way by Hobbs and Rutherford. According to Hobbs, Rutherford may need to refine his couch riding technique.

“Neil was doing handstands but may have pulled a hamstring in the process.” laughed Hobbs. The win was EKAROSA’S first from just four starts and she should continue to be competitive.

The other two Cambridge winners at Ellerslie were TRANKY DOO and SUMMER’S DAY.
TRANKY DOO is trained by Ralph Manning for long-time supporters Jenny and Tom Hobson.
Ridden by promising apprentice Zy Nor Azman, TRANKY DOO finished strongly to score comfortably. “It was a well-judged ride by Zy and the mare did the rest.” said Manning.

SUMMER’S DAY capped off some recent consistent efforts when also successful on Saturday. The Tony Pike trained mare has fashioned a fine record with 11 top three finishes in 15 starts. “She deserved another win and she’s so honest.” said Wayne Pike , deputising for his son.

I’ll catch you next week.

Cheers

George.

From the Commentary Box 16 May 2016

The first race winner at Rotorua on Saturday was an omen for punters.

The winner was DOMINATION, and that perfectly summed up the day for Cambridge trained horses. No less than seven of the nine races on the card, were won by Cambridge horses.

Throw in to the mix the two feature races, the Campbell Infrastructure Rotorua Cup and the Classic Cuisine Rotorua F & M WFA Stakes, and you realise the complete ‘domination’.

Let’s work our way through the card.

As mentioned earlier, DOMINATION got the ball rolling in the first for trainer Chris McNab. Ridden by Aaron Kuru, DOMINATION raced away for an effortless win.

Next up was promising three year old KOENIGSEGG ONE who justified his favouritism with a hard fought victory. The Tony Pike trained SWISS ACE gelding has stacks of ability.

The Ralph Manning trained ENJOY THE RIDE sprung a surprise when winning over 1215m. ENJOY THE RIDE returned odds of nearly 50 to 1, leading home a Cambridge trifecta with HOLLYWOOD LASS and BIGSIE filling the minor placings.

Next up was ARZAK, who was the first of two winners for the Baker/Forsman team on the day.
ARZAK rallied gamely over the concluding stages for a game win with Matt Cameron aboard.

The day’s feature race, the Campbell Infrastructure Rotorua Cup, was won by the evergreen stayer STORMING THE TOWER. Trainer John Bell was understandably thrilled with the winning performance. “He’s been racing without much luck over the past couple of seasons, so I think he deserved this.” said Bell.

The other feature race on the card was won by track specialist, ILLUMINATI. Her success in the Classic Cuisine Rotorua F & M WFA Stakes brightened the mood of her trainer Ben Foote. Foote admitted to ‘dropping his lip’ after disappointing efforts from stablemates BAZZ and SO IT GOES earlier in the day.

“I came here today thinking all my horses were winning chances, but the first two were disappointing.” said Foote.

Wrapping up the huge haul of Cambridge winners was HE KIN FLY, again for the Baker/Forsman team. The DARCI BRAHMA three year old took his record to two wins from two starts. He too looks to have a promising future.

For good measure, there were two further winners at New Plymouth.

JON SNOW scored in the NZB Insurance Pearl Series Maiden two year old race, while PACORUS won for Chris Wood in the Seaton Park Rating 65.

A day of ‘domination’.

I’ll catch you next week.

Cheers

George

From the Commentary Box 2 May 2016

The Cambridge Jockey Club’s Premier raceday at Te Rapa last Saturday was a resounding success.

Featuring top quality fields throughout the eight race card, there was action aplenty on the track. The two feature races went the way of the two favourites.

The Group Two feature, the Travis Stakes was won by RASA LILA. Raced by Sir Peter Vela, RASA LILA dashed away for a comprehensive three length victory in the hands of Leith Innes.

After settling midfield on the rail, Innes had his mount in a challenging position nearing the turn. “She was bolting on the turn and it was a matter of just releasing the brakes.” said Innes. Once unleashed, RASA LILA dashed away from runner up ABIDEWITHME.

In third spot was GESEMI from the Baker/Forsman stable.

RASA LILA is trained by Steven Ramsay and Julia Ritchie at Mangatautari. Ramsay was obviously delighted after the race. “She was given a peach of a ride by Leith and she deserved this valuable Group Two win.” said Ramsay. “Wide barrier draws haven’t helped her at her two last starts, so this is pretty satisfying.” he added.

The other feature race was the Inglis Sales Cambridge Breeders Stakes and once again the race went to script.

Dominating the pre-race discussion was the dual Group One winner, XTRAVAGANT and he didn’t disappoint. The Te Akau owned colt blitzed his rivals, justifying his odds on favouritism.

Regular pilot Matt Cameron eased his mount in behind the speed after an early speed dual. “I didn’t intend trailing but he relaxed beautifully and I knew we had them covered a long way out.” said Cameron.

XTRAVAGANT won by nearly three lengths with Southern filly FIRST SERVE finishing second. VOLKS LIGHTNING ran third. Co trainer Stephen Autridge was still undecided on the future plans for XTRAVAGANT.

“We will be meeting next week and will decide then if he goes to Queensland for a Winter campaign.” said Autridge.

There were two local successes at the meeting.

SILHOUETTE NOIRE sprung a major surprise when winning for Lee Somervell. The former Southern mare started at 43 to 1 and bloused out her more fancied rivals. It was a victory which caught most punters off guard, but not the stable.

“Her work has been first class leading into the race and I thought she’d go a cheeky race.” said Somervell.
SILHOUETTE NOIRE will now head to Rotorua for a black type race.

The other local winner was LANCIATO trained by Stephen Marsh. LANCIATO was the second of the two winners on the day for jockey Leith Innes.

Innes was very impressed by the win. “He did that pretty easily and the turn of foot he showed was very good.” said Innes. LANCIATO looks set for more success judging by the quality of this latest win.

Catch you soon.

Cheers

George.

From the Commentary Box 25 April 2016

The Championship Stakes at Ellerslie last Saturday could be a game changer.

Not in the respect of what happened, but more from the perspective of what didn’t happen. History will show THE HASSLER, trained by Roger James, won the Group Two race with Vinny Colgan aboard.

What may be forgotten in the passing of time, is the drama and downright frightening circumstances that unfolded during the race. Those circumstances involved the pre post favourite, ROMANTIC MAID, also trained by Roger James.

As the field swung out of the straight with 1700m to travel, ROMANTIC MAID, who was vying for the lead, appeared to clip heels, dislodging rider Danielle Johnson. Johnson copped a severe buffeting as the rest of the field tried to avoid her, with a number of runners chances clearly affected.

As the field continued on, the drama was centred on Johnson who was prone on the track about 50m past the winning post. Calling the race, I was mindful of trying to convey where the horses were in the running but I was also mindful of the danger to the obviously injured Johnson.

Most times the St John’s Ambulance personnel, with the assistance of officials, are able to move the injured jockey off the track and out of harm’s way. As the field thundered towards the home turn with 500m to go, it was clear to see they weren’t able to shift Johnson from the track. This presented a conundrum for the Stipendiary Stewards.

Should they call the race off, in light of the imminent danger to horses and riders in the race and the personnel attending the injured rider? Remember, Johnson was lying on the track just 50m or so from the winning post.

I have no doubt in my mind that the race should have been abandoned as soon as the Stipendiary Stewards realised Johnson could not be moved. The risk and danger was too great.

It transpired later, that under the Rules of Racing, the Stipendiary Stewards have no power to abandon a race.

And this is where I believe last Saturday’s race could be a game changer.

Surely the circumstances surrounding this incident will lead to a rule change, giving stewards the power to abandon a race. The safety and well-being of all must take precedence. It was nothing more than a sheer fluke that no one was seriously injured.

How did the people treating Johnson on the track, not to mention Johnson herself, feel as the field thundered up the home straight towards them?

Winning rider Vinny Colgan was unaware of the drama until the winning post. He, like all the other riders in the race, had to take evasive action to avoid the injured rider. How they managed to avoid any further mayhem was testament to their skills.

And a reminder, there needs to be an immediate rule change.

Do it now.

Catch you next week.

Cheers

George.

From the Commentary Box 18 April 2016

Talk about an embarrassment of riches.

Cambridge trained horses dominated the three NZ venues last Saturday. Regardless of whether you were watching races in the north, central or south, Cambridge horses were all over it !

Let’s start from the North and work our way South.

Tauranga saw Cambridge horses win six of the eight races on the programme.

BATTLE TIME got the ball rolling in his fresh up run this preparation. The Tim and Margaret Carter trained three year old broke his maiden with a tenacious victory. The talented galloper has a bright future ahead.

IT’S BIANCA scored for Anne Herbert in the following race. Ridden by Trudy Thornton, IT’S BIANCA sat outside the leader before kicking clear over the concluding stages.

She scored comfortably as did MEESKA MOOSKA in the next race. Trained by Graham Thomas and Nick Smith, MEESKA MOOSKA dashed away to win by three and a half lengths. More wins look in store for him.

INASTRIDE capped off some recent good form with a win for the powerful Baker/Forsman combination.

In the next race, BLIZZARD proved too strong for race favourite SPOKE TO CARLO in the feature race of the day. It was a good training feat from Emma-Lee and David Browne to have BLIZZARD ready after an enforced lay off .

Capping off the day at Tauranga was the Catherine Cameron trained LIGHT SHADOW. After settling last, LIGHT SHADOW overpowered his rivals to score for apprentice Shaun McKay .

The local winning spree continued at Hawkes Bay on Saturday too.

Tony Pike collected a double with CHENILLE and SUMMER’S DAY both successful. CHENILLE justified her favouritism winning the feature race, the Fasttrackinsurance Hawke’s Bay Gold Cup.
She is one of the most promising stayers in the country.

The other Cambridge winner at Hawke’s Bay was impressive two year old, BONNEVAL. Trained by the Baker/Forsman team, BONNEVAL made an auspicious debut. The beautifully bred MAKFI filly looks the goods.

The highlight at Riccarton on Saturday from a Cambridge perspective was the win of NO PUSHOVER. A PINS filly with the Shaune Ritchie team, NO PUSHOVER dominated her rivals over 1600m. NO PUSHOVER completed back to back wins scoring by two lengths for jockey Masa Tanaka.

Although beaten SEIZE THE MOMENT lost no admirers in his race. The Stephen Marsh trained galloper was nosed out of the major prize by the barest of margins. His reward will come shortly.

The Cambridge Centre has had tremendous success in recent weeks. And from my viewpoint, it is pretty to watch .

Congratulations to all concerned.

I’ll catch you next week.

Cheers

George.

From the Commentary Box 11 April 2016

If there was a prize for the most politically correct jockey, Hugh Bowman would be a short priced favourite.

The world class Aussie hoop, considered by many as the best jockey in Australia, won last Saturday’s James Boag’s Premium Australian Oaks on Cambridge filly SOFIA ROSA.

Moments after crossing the finish line, Bowman was asked what he thought of the Stephen Marsh trained filly. “I’ve ridden some difficult horses in my time, but she takes the cake.” said Bowman rather diplomatically.

Easing the difficulty somewhat was the undoubted toughness and class of SOFIA ROSA.
“She was laying in all over the place up the home straight but she just kept giving.” said Bowman. “She’s one tough filly.“ he added.

For trainer Stephen Marsh the win was a career highlight. “We were gutted after she lost the New Zealand Oaks on protest so to win today is so satisfying.” said Marsh.

SOFIA ROSA was relegated to second after causing interference to eventual winner Fanatic over the concluding stages. Marsh echoed his rider’s sentiments regarding SOFIA ROSA.
“You never take anything for granted with her, she’ll kick and bite you as soon as look at you.” said Marsh.

Marsh singled out stable employee Troy Harris for special praise. “Troy rides her every day and I marvel at how he puts up with all her antics.” said Marsh.

Personally, SOFIA ROSA may have the temperament of a rabid bush pig, but I don’t know if I’ve ever seen a tougher filly. Her horrific race fall at Ellerslie on Boxing Day would have seen most horses put aside to recover. Not SOFIA ROSA though.

Just a week later she was back at Ellerslie and winning a Group Two race. It is a tribute to her toughness that the NZ Filly of the Year, is also the James Boag’s Premium Australian Oaks winner.

Talking about winners, what a great day it was at Te Aroha for Cambridge stables. The locals dominated most of the card at the Premier meeting.

Although unable to bag the Group One feature on the day, Cambridge stables saddled up five of the nine race winners.

HOLLYWOOD LASS got the ball rolling with a brilliant debut win in the opening event. The Tony Pike trained filly looks a real promising type.

The Linda Laing trained NEALA, with Rogan Norvall aboard, led home a Cambridge trifecta in race two. The MASTERCRAFTSMAN filly scored at lucrative odds of $30 to 1.

Fresh up exponent BONNIEGIRL was the first of two winners for the Baker/Forsman team, along with the J Swap Te Aroha Cup victor, SAINT EMILION.
Wrapping up the successful day for Cambridge, was the victory of CALL ME ROYAL for part owner and trainer, Tarissa Mitchell.

The continued success of Cambridge horses not only in New Zealand, but also at the highest level in Australia is quite remarkable.

Congrats to all.

I’ll catch you next week.

Cheers

George

From the Commentary Box 4 April 2016

TAVAGO’S stunning win in the ATC Derby at Randwick on Saturday was just what his trainers wanted.

Trent Busuttin and Natalie Young will shortly be relocating to Cranbourne in Victoria to continue their training career. With TAVAGO annihilating his opposition in the prestigious $2m ATC Derby, the young training combination stole the limelight.

The pair had already tasted Derby success in Australia with their multiple Group One winner SANGSTER winning the VRC Derby several years ago.

However TAVAGO’S dominant win on Saturday was even more special. “This is better because Natalie gets her deserved recognition as a co-trainer of the ATC Derby winner,” said Busuttin. “She is twice the horsewoman I am a trainer and this is such a great result.” added Busuttin.

Natalie Young created history becoming the first woman to train an ATC Derby winner.

TAVAGO became the third Derby winner this season for Cambridge Stud stallion sensation, TAVISTOCK, after TARZINO, (VRC Derby) and WERTHER (Hong Kong Derby).

Busuttin and Young were mindful of their pending shift to Cranbourne. “This is a great way to advertise the fact that we are shifting in July to train out of Cranbourne and hopefully we’ll get new owners as a result.” said Busuttin.

Ridden by Tommy Berry, TAVAGO bolted in by four lengths beating JAMEKA and TALLY.
Hot favourite TARZINO was a battling fourth.

TAVAGO will probably be aimed for the staying races in Victoria later this year. “There was talk we may head to Queensland with him but after today we’ll have to rethink our plans.” said Busuttin.

The Busuttin and Young partnership nearly had a Group One Trans-Tasman double after their two year old SICARIO was just nabbed by LUNA ROSSA in the Courtesy Ford Manawatu Sires Produce Stakes at Awapuni on Saturday. SICARIO was out finished late by fellow Cambridge trained LUNA ROSSA, prepared by Murray Baker and Andrew Forsman.

Completing a memorable trifecta was another Baker/Forsman trained runner SARACINO.

LUNA ROSSA is a filly by WRITTEN TYCOON and was ridden by Lisa Allpress. “I didn’t think she was going to be in it because she was so far off them and not really hitting out like a winner.” admitted Allpress afterwards. To LUNA ROSSA’S credit though, she dug deep to overpower her rivals. “That was a game effort by both horses and we nearly got the quinella.” said Forsman.

Busuttin and Young were at it again when MABEEL scored a brilliant all the way win in the Fairdale/Goodwood Studs Flying Open Handicap. Ridden by Sam Spratt, MABEEL ran his rivals ragged eventually scoring by four and a half lengths.
MABEEL may now be aimed at the Group One Manco Easter Stakes at Ellerslie.

The Baker/Forsman team also picked up the Group Two Kamada Park Awapuni Gold Cup with MAYGROVE successful from another Cambridge trained runner, TROJAN WARRIOR.
MAYGROVE was game in success having to carry the topweight .

Further success for Cambridge came at Ellerslie courtesy of HARDCASE, PROCUREMENT and SNOW SECRET.

A wonderful day all round!

Catch you next week.

Cheers

George.

From the Commentary Box 28 March 2016

Cambridge stables saluted three times at Tauranga last Saturday.

Heading the charge was the John Bell trained stayer STORMING THE TOWER who was successful in the Drymix Cement Bay of Plenty Cup. Ridden by Leith Innes, STORMING THE TOWER scored a game victory over runner up SECONDS OUT and DUBAI SHUFFLE.

Innes, mindful of the small field, put his mount in a forward position from the outset.
“Sometimes these staying races can be muddling run affairs especially in small fields so I just rode him like he was the best horse.” said Innes.

STORMING THE TOWER sat outside the pacemaker GUESS WHAT until the 300m when Innes asked him for his effort. In a driving finish, STORMING THE TOWER dug deep to hold out her two nearest rivals.

For trainer and part owner John Bell, the win was well deserved. “He’s been going around in most of the major staying races this season and he’s performed well so I think he deserved this today.” said Bell.

Talented filly NAHEMA finally showed a glimpse of her undoubted ability at Tauranga last Saturday. It has been a frustrating time for her connections this season after several below par efforts.

Trainer Stephen Marsh was delighted with her return to winning form. “We’ve done every test imaginable on her to try and work out what was going on with her, so today was a relief.” said Marsh.

NAHEMA bounced to the lead for rider Matt Cameron and was always travelling beautifully in front. It was obvious NAHEMA had her opposition struggling as the field neared the home turn. “She was bolting coming towards the turn and she was always going to win.” said Cameron.

Such was the dominance of her performance, Nahema’s winning margin was ten and a half lengths. Now that she has recaptured that winning groove, she should be followed closely.

The third of the local wins at Tauranga came courtesy of Seventh Up. The consistent performer scored a comfortable three quarters of a length victory over 1600m. Trained by Shelley Hale, SEVENTH UP was aided by a clever ride by Mark Du Plessis.

“I didn’t want to get too far off them because it can be hard to make up ground on this track.” said Du Plessis later. Although settling last in the early stages, SEVENTH UP improved between runners to be second outside the leader turning for home.

Once popped the question, SEVENTH UP quickly bounded to the lead to hold on comfortably.

The win continued a great strike rate this season for trainer Shelley Hale. Hale only ever has a small team in work and SEVENTH UP’S success was her seventh from just seventeen starters this season.

I’ll catch you next week.

Cheers

George

From the Commentary Box 21 March 2016

You had to feel sorry for the connections of SOFIA ROSA at Trentham last Saturday.

Just moments after the Stephen Marsh trained filly had narrowly prevailed in a thrilling finish to the Group One Wellfield New Zealand Oaks, the siren sounded, indicating a judicial enquiry.

Connections of the runner up, Te Awamutu filly FANATIC, were adamant their chances were affected by interference caused by SOFIA ROSA over the concluding stages. The JCA panel agreed with them as twenty tension packed minutes later, SOFIA ROSA was officially relegated behind FANATIC.

FANATIC was ridden by Cambridge based jockey Mark Hills who never doubted there would be a change of placings. “SOFIA ROSA veered out onto my filly over the last 50m and with the margin being only a nose, I was confident of getting the decision,“ said Hills. Hills has gained a reputation as a longshot Group One jockey.

FANATIC, trained by Graeme Sanders and Debbie Sweeney, returned odds of more than $60 to win. Two previous wins at the elite level by Hills came aboard 100 to 1 outsiders.

“I won a Thorndon Mile on MACHAVELLIAN MISS and a Railway on JACOWILS and both paid over a $100 to win” said Hills.

For SOFIA ROSA’S connections the relegation was obviously disappointing.

Trainer Stephen Marsh was philosophical afterwards. “It’s never nice to lose any race in the judicial room, let alone a Group One, but at least SOFIA ROSA won the NZ Filly of the Year series,” said Marsh. With the points earned from her eventual second placing, SOFIA ROSA topped the points table in the final race of the series.

There has been two enquiries in Group One races in recent weeks and personally I’m comfortable the right decision was made in both cases.

Marsh did gain some compensation when SANTIAGO scored a minor upset over 1600m. Ridden by Danielle Johnson, SANTIAGO overhauled the pacemaker IN ANOTHER LIFE over the final stages to win by nearly two lengths.

The Baker/Forsman team were also successful at Trentham with CHARMONT and LUNA ROSSA both justifying inspired support to score emphatic victories. The stable also enjoyed success at Te Rapa with OKANAGAN, prevailing with Craig Grylls aboard.

Also successful at Te Rapa were FIRST HONOUR, for Trevor and Martin Cruz, and ROMANTIC MAID for Roger James. ROMANTIC MAID looks a filly with a very promising future. It was her second win from two starts and it won’t be her last I kid you not.

Finally, what a great weekend for Cambridge Stud based stallion TAVISTOCK. Hard on the heels of VOLKSTOK’N’BARRELL’S Group One win at Ellerslie a week ago, TAVISTOCK sired two more Group One winners on the international scene.
TARZINO ensured favouritism in the ATC Australian Derby when winning the Rosehill Guineas at Rosehill on Saturday. That victory was usurped by former Kiwi galloper WERTHER’S win in the prestigious Hong Kong Derby at Sha Tin on Sunday.

Looks like Sir Patrick Hogan has found another super sire.

TAVISTOCK has a long way to go to even be mentioned in the same breath as SIR TRISTRAM and ZABEEL, but gee he’s heading in the right direction.

I’ll catch you next week.

Cheers

George