Ascot Park locals celebrate feature double

By Richard Edmunds

23 Feb 2022

Ascot Park locals celebrate feature doubleSally McKay headed a big day for the locals at Saturday’s Ascot Park meeting

“We shared the wins around and had heaps of fun together, it was a fantastic day.”
Southland stables played a starring role on Invercargill’s biggest raceday of the year last weekend, headed by a feature-race double for Ascot Park trainers Sally McKay and Lisa Vaughan.
Four of the 10 races were won by Southlanders, including the McKay-trained Palmetto in the Listed Southland Guineas and Vaughan’s Asathought in the Invercargill Gold Cup. There were also undercard successes for Kerry and Ian Taplin (Never Quitz) and Kalai Selvan (Gerry Joyce).
“It was a great day for the locals – we kept a lot of the prize-money here in Southland,” said McKay, who had a ringside seat for Saturday’s action as a clerk of the course on horseback at Ascot Park. “We shared the wins around and had heaps of fun together, it was a fantastic day. Southlanders know how to celebrate, so a great time was had by all.”
Palmetto is now a back-to-back stakes winner, having claimed the Dunedin and Southland Guineas in his last two starts. He has earned over $100,000 and has played a key part in the remarkable recovery of his trainer and part-owner McKay, who suffered serious head injuries in a riding accident in 2018.
But it could have turned out very differently if the son of Ghibellines had met his meagre reserve in the 2020 South Island Sale on the Gavelhouse Plus online platform.
“It’s amazing to think now that they couldn’t even get 10 grand for him,” McKay said. “Michael (Stokes, breeder) asked me to break him in and get him going, with the idea of trialling him and trying to sell him from there.
“We couldn’t find a trial, so I sent him straight to the races instead. When he won that, the ball started rolling and we began to have some fun.
“I’ve got a 20 per cent share in him, while Michael and the other breeders put together a syndicate for the rest. I’m not sure how many of us there are overall, but we had 11 at the races on Saturday and they had a great day. Some of them were first or second-time owners, so it’s fantastic for them.
“We’ve had a bit of interest in selling him, so that’s on the cards now, but we’ll wait and see. Other options include putting in a late nomination for the Levin Classic, or maybe even going to the Brisbane winter carnival. We know that he’s pretty versatile in terms of distances and track conditions, so we’d have a few options to choose from over there, and it might mean I get a holiday for once!”
The blue-blooded Asathought, meanwhile, has now won five of her 24 starts and $111,245 for her Southland owner-breeders Willie and Karen Calder. The daughter of So You Think is a half-sister to the nine-time Group One winner Avantage, and she has herself picked up two black-type placings in the Listed Southland Guineas and Dunedin Gold Cup.
Asathought began her career with trials in the North Island for Jamie Richards, but all of her racing has been for Vaughan, who also owns and operates a G.J. Gardner building franchise with her husband, former All Black Simon Culhane.
“It was so good to see her get that win on Saturday,” Vaughan said. “She’s beautifully bred and has always had the ability, but she’s just needed time. She’s finally hitting her straps now and everything’s coming together.
“Willie and Karen are family friends of ours, and I’ve trained a few horses for them over the years. This mare started out up north, but Willie and Karen asked us one day if we could take her. They thought a change of environment might do her good, along with the beach training that we do. The fact that we’re a small stable also allows us to give them a bit more one-on-one training.
“We think the best could still be yet to come with her. We’ll freshen her up now and have a go at the Breeders’ Stakes at Riccarton (March 26), and then we could think about the Riverton Cup or Canterbury Gold Cup.
“Willie and Karen are keen to race her as a six-year-old next season as well, and they think that might be her best season, so hopefully we’ve got a bit to look forward to in the future.”