2021-22 SEASON WRAP: Mares to the fore in middle-distance features

By Dennis Ryan

28 Jul 2022

2021-22 SEASON WRAP: Mares to the fore in middle-distance featuresReigning Horse of the Year Probabeel stamped her authority again with this gritty Might And Power St

“Probabeel has made a habit of flying the New Zealand flag with distinction across the Tasman.
New Zealand horses won five Group One races over 2000 or 2040 metres this season, and all but one of those victories was scored by a mare.
That trend began in the spring with a pair of Savabeel mares from the Matamata stable of runaway trainers’ premiership winner Jamie Richards – Probabeel and Savy Yong Blonk.
Probabeel has made a habit of flying the New Zealand flag with distinction across the Tasman, having previously captured Group One victories in the Surround Stakes, Epsom Handicap and Futurity Stakes.
The reigning New Zealand Horse of the Year added a fourth Group One trophy to the mantelpiece this season, stepping up to 2000 metres for a famous win over one of Australia’s most-hyped racehorses in the Might And Power Stakes at Caulfield (formerly Caulfield Stakes).
Despite a solid build-up that featured a win in the Gr. 3 Cockram Stakes, a close fifth under a big weight in the Gr. 1 Sir Rupert Clarke Stakes and a last-start second in the Gr. 1 Underwood Stakes, Probabeel was overlooked at Caulfield as a distant second favourite behind the red-hot $1.28 shot Zaaki.
But this was Probabeel’s day, diving through a narrow gap along the rail and outsprinting Zaaki to take a clear lead. The biggest challenge ended up coming from the subsequent Caulfield Cup runner-up Nonconformist, but Probabeel dug deep and prevailed in a head-bobbing photo finish.
Until the early part of last year, Probabeel’s stablemate Savy Yong Blonk had enjoyed most of her success in some of our feature staying handicaps. She won the Gr. 3 City of Auckland Cup at Ellerslie on New Year’s Day 2021, and her black-type placings included the same race 12 months earlier as well as the Gr. 3 Counties Cup and Waikato Cup.
But she started to make the transition into weight-for-age company in the autumn of 2021, winning the Gr. 3 Manawatu Breeders’ Stakes and placing in the Gr. 2 Travis Stakes. She kicked off her 2021-22 season in the Gr. 1 Tarzino Trophy at Hastings, where she made an eye-catching late run for sixth over a distance well short of her best.
Savy Yong Blonk hit a new career pinnacle a few weeks later, returning to Hawke’s Bay to triumph in the Gr. 1 Livamol Classic over 2040 metres. Ridden in midfield by Danielle Johnson, the six-year-old came out of the pack with an irresistible finish and edged out Harlech and Prise De Fer to score by a short neck.
The racetrack careers of both Probabeel and Savy Yong Blonk unfortunately came to an end during the 2021-22 season. Probabeel was found to have injured a suspensory ligament after winning the Gr. 3 Geoffrey Bellmaine Stakes in February, while Savy Yong Blonk suffered a tendon injury in the lead-up to the Gr. 1 Captain Cook Stakes in December.
Probabeel was bought by Te Akau Racing’s David Ellis for $380,000 from the draft of breeders Waikato Stud at Karaka in 2018. She became the finest racehorse to carry the black and gold Cambridge Stud colours of owners Brendan and Jo Lindsay, winning 13 of her 29 starts and more than $4.3 million in stakes.
As well as her four Group One wins in Australia, Probabeel also made history on home soil as the first (and so far only) horse to ever win the Karaka Million as a two-year-old and return to Ellerslie 12 months later and capture the Karaka Million 3YO Classic.
Probabeel’s future now lies at stud, with her first mating set to be with Cambridge Stud’s emerging star shuttle stallion Almanzor this season.
Savy Yong Blonk was raced by her breeders, Gartshore Bloodstock, and had 27 starts for eight wins, eight placings and $486,950 in stakes. She was served by Super Seth last spring but failed to get in foal, so will be suitable for an early service in the upcoming breeding season.
The other star mare in middle-distance ranks this season was Robbie Patterson’s pride and joy, Coventina Bay.
Retained and syndicated by breeder Wayne Darling after failing to meet her $20,000 reserve as a yearling at Karaka, the daughter of Shamexpress had already proven her class with eight wins and more than $200,000 in stakes through her three-year-old, four-year-old and five-year-old seasons. The highlights of those earlier campaigns included victories in the Gr. 3 J Swap Sprint and Cuddle Stakes, plus a second placing in the Gr. 1 New Zealand Thoroughbred Breeders’ Stakes.
But this was a breakthrough year for Coventina Bay, starting with a brilliant first-up victory in the Gr. 2 Manawatu Challenge Stakes over 1400 metres at Awapuni in December – her first win at Group Two level.
Second placings followed in the Gr. 3 Anniversary Handicap (behind Bankers Choice) and Gr. 1 Thorndon Mile (to The Chosen One), before Patterson decided to test his stable star beyond 1600 metres for the first time.
She stepped up to 2000 metres for the Gr. 1 Herbie Dyke Stakes at Te Rapa in early February, producing an outstanding turn of foot in the straight to turn the tables on The Chosen One and win with ease.
The Gr. 1 Bonecrusher New Zealand Stakes at Ellerslie a month later brought more of the same, with Herbie Dyke placegetters Vernanme and The Chosen One again unable to withstand the powerful late finish of Coventina Bay.
Another second placing in the Gr. 1 New Zealand Thoroughbred Breeders’ Stakes brought Coventina Bay’s domestic season to a close. She crossed the Tasman for a shot at the Queensland Winter Carnival but failed to produce her best form, with a fifth in the Gr. 2 Hollindale Stakes her best result from three starts.
Coventina Bay has now had a total of 26 starts for 11 wins, six placings and well over $700,000 in prize-money, dwarfing her meagre $20,000 reserve at Karaka in 2017.
The only male Group One winner in the middle-distance range this season – and the only male finalist in this category for the upcoming New Zealand Thoroughbred Horse of the Year Awards – is Tiptronic, who ran his rivals off their feet in the Zabeel Classic at Ellerslie on Boxing Day.
Ridden by first-time Group One winner Ashvin Goindasamy for trainers Graham Richardson and Rogan Norvall, the O’Reilly gelding dictated terms in front before increasing the tempo coming up to the home turn. Tiptronic kicked clear and put himself well out of reach of the chasers, winning by a length and a half from Vernanme and Two Illicit.
Richardson paid $100,000 to buy Tiptronic at Karaka in 2015. He showed early promise, winning his second start as a spring three-year-old and placing in the Gr. 2 Auckland Guineas at Ellerslie on New Year’s Day.
But that was only a small taste of what was to come. After a series of stakes placings in the Gr. 2 Japan Trophy, Gr. 3 Eagle Technology Stakes and Gr. 2 Rich Hill Mile, Tiptronic stepped on to the big stage with a bold second placing behind On The Rocks in the Herbie Dyke Stakes at Te Rapa in February of 2019. He returned for the same race 12 months later and went one better with a narrow win over True Enough and Rock On Wood.
This season’s Zabeel Classic doubled Tiptronic’s Group One tally, and he followed it up with a fourth under 61.5 kilograms in the Karaka Cup, fifth in the Herbie Dyke Stakes, fourth in the Bonecrusher New Zealand Stakes and second in the Gr. 2 Awapuni Gold Cup.
From 49 starts, the eight-year-old has recorded eight wins and 13 placings, earning over $800,000 in stakes.
Vernanme, trained by Stephen Marsh for co-owner-breeders Kevin Hickman and Vern Trillo, also warrants a mention in this summary of the season’s middle-distance features. Although his only win for the season came in the 1600-metre Listed Matamata Cup, the O’Reilly gelding stepped up in class and distance from there and made his presence felt throughout the summer.
He ran third in the Gr. 2 Tauranga Stakes, second in the Zabeel Classic, second in the Herbie Dyke Stakes, second in the Bonecrusher New Zealand Stakes and third in the Awapuni Gold Cup. Vernanme has now amassed just under $400,000 from a 30-start career that has produced five wins and 11 placings.