Wood acknowledges legend’s input

Illuminati (Viktoria Gatu) returning to scale after her third win this campaign. (Photo: Kenton Wright, Race Images).

Illuminati (Viktoria Gatu) returning to scale after her third win this campaign. (Photo: Kenton Wright, Race Images).


Cambridge trainer Chris Wood wasn’t on course at Rotorua last Saturday but he was soon sending through a special “thank you” text after his stable apprentice Viktoria Gatu won aboard Illuminati.

Gatu (29) has ridden eight winners this season and has doubled the total she had in each of her first two seasons of raceriding.

The improvement in Gatu’s riding has been noticeable and Wood gives much credit to the new riding master and apprentice mentor, Noel Harris, who retired after a successful 45-year-old career as one of New Zealand’s best jockeys.

It was to Harris that Wood sent the thank you text and Gatu is also very appreciative to the gifted horseman over helping her improve her riding skills.

Harris is just into his fifth week in his new role and already his input with northern apprentices has been very successful with Gatu being one of the big improvers.

“I’ve been focusing on the apprentices getting into a rhythm with their mounts and not worrying about the stick (whip). That will come later,” said Harris.

Harris has been to all the Auckland-Waikato meetings and is the first to comment on each of the apprentices’ rides after returning to scale, offering praise and encouragement or pointers for improvement.

Swedish-born Gatu has had 16 wins and three of them came within four days last week. She was successful aboard Impact at Matamata last Wednesday, then Roger at Avondale two days later and picked up her third win on Illuminati last Saturday.

Gatu has ridden Illuminati in each of her four starts this campaign for three wins and a second. The first of those wins was at Rotorua on March 27, the next at Tauranga on April 11 and she finished second to Zedpak at Te Rapa on May 2 before backing up a week later for her latest triumph.

Illuminati is trained at Cambridge by Ben Foote, who was also absent from the Rotorua meeting but quick to praise Gatu on her performance.

“I can’t speak highly enough of Viktoria and the way she has ridden for me,” Foote told NZ Racing Desk. “She follows instructions to the letter. I think she has now had six rides for four wins and a placing for me.”

Foote shares in the syndicate which races Illuminati and is keen to target the Gr. 3 Winter Cup at Riccarton next August with the daughter of Keeper.