Champions of the past joined by stars of the present and future at Te Rapa

By Dennis Ryan

15 Feb 2023

Champions of the past joined by stars of the present and future at Te RapaSavouring her fourth Group One victory, admiring connections surround Imperatriz as Opie Bosson unsa

Legends Day at Te Rapa brought together champions of the past and present in a programme that lived right up to its billing headed by class performances from the favourites in each of the three feature races.
Sharp ’N’ Smart franked his Australian spring form as a he defied a torrid trip in transit in the Gr. 1 Herbie Dyke Stakes, Imperatriz proved simply too good for her Gr. 1 BCD Group Sprint rivals to claim her fourth elite victory, and Prowess looked every bit a Group One winner in waiting as she raced away with the Gr. 2 David & Karyn Ellis Fillies’ Classic.
It’s not often that the stars align in such a way, but when they do it’s a raceday experience to savour. Prowess was first to strike as she stepped up to a middle-distance as the $1.20 favourite to complete a hat-trick in the Ellis Classic. Wins at her previous two starts in the Gr. 2 Auckland Guineas and Karaka Million 3YO Classic were added to with a completely dominant performance as she settled on the pace before charging away by five lengths.
Yet another star by premiership-leading sire Proisir, Prowess holds nominations for the New Zealand Derby and Oaks and Levin Classic, and while the last of those is off the menu, trainers Roger James and Robert Wellwood have some deep thinking ahead of deciding which of our two premier classics to target.
The Cambridge partners selected Prowess from her breeder Hallmark Stud’s Karaka Book 1 draft two years ago, having been commissioned by Bay of Plenty building contractor Dean Skipper to buy a “nice filly” he could race with his family. The man known as “Skip” was unable to be at Karaka when the big bay filly went through the ring, but now he enjoying the rewards of giving his long-time acquaintance James the freedom to go beyond his $200,000 budget if he felt it was the right thing to do.
It certainly was a fortuitous call, as James had to stretch the budget to $230,000 to repel various other good judges and secure his filly of choice. With five wins and stakes of more than $770,000, Prowess has already surpassed expectations and further, quite possibly even greater, rewards beckon her.
Her regular rider, former South African Warren Kennedy, made some interesting observations when RaceForm interviewed him following his first big win on her, the Auckland Guineas at Te Rapa on New Year’s Day.
As well as stating that Prowess would have “no problem” with at least 2000m, he made an even more inciteful observation. “She reminds me a lot of a very good filly, Summer Pudding, who I rode back in South Africa a couple of years ago,” he said. “This filly has the same sort of racing style – you can put her in the race and when you want it, there’s plenty there.”
Summer Pudding was in fact the standout of her generation, winning 11 of her 13 starts and being partnered by Kennedy in five Group Ones. She was South African Horse of the Year in her three-year-old season, 2019-20, as well as Champion Three-Year-Old Filly and in 2020-21 Champion Older Female.
On Saturday Prowess was almost faultless as Kennedy sent her forward from the tricky 2000m start, with her only possible blemish a brief tendency to race keenly while the field was finding its order. The rest was easy, and the way she ran through the line indicated she would have no problem stretching out to the classic distance.
Whether that will be in the Derby back at Te Rapa on March 4 or the Oaks at Trentham two weeks later, the other target in mind that may well govern timing and her connections’ final decision is the ATC Oaks at Randwick on April 8. Exciting times indeed await this exciting filly.
Sharp ’N’ Smart had already delivered his share of thrills before last weekend, beginning with an autumn stakes win at just his second start, feature placings at the Queensland carnival and a spring campaign headed by wins in the Gr. 1 Spring Champion Stakes and Gr. 3 Gloaming Stakes and a half-length second in the VRC Derby.
The second half of his three-year-old season began with a brave second in the Gr. 1 Thorndon Mile at Trentham and a fortnight later he showed just how good he is with a performance that defied logic in the Herbie Dyke Stakes.
The Redwood gelding, whose breeder, Westbury Stud owner Gerry Harvey, retained a racing share, was never going to get it easy from his wide draw on Saturday. That became amply apparent when several other runners pushed up inside him heading out of the straight, which is when his rider Ryan Elliot made the ultimately right decision.
“He normally jumps well, but after trying to go forward I realised we wouldn’t be able to cross to a handy position,” Elliot told RaceForm. “So I eased out of it and I was actually happy enough to end up travelling three wide.
“He’s best when he he’s put in the clear, but that’s just lack of ringcraft, he’s not that confident when he’s cluttered up. It was pretty straightforward after that, but the silly thing is that he still doesn’t really know what he’s doing.”
Elliot’s maiden Group One win, the 2020 Captain Cook Stakes on Rock On Wood, was special given that Redwood gelding was trained and part-owned by the jockey’s mother Leanne. Over the past year he has added further big wins on the Ken and Bev Kelso-trained pair Levante and Legarto, and it meant a lot to finally claim a major for trainers Graeme and Debbie Rogerson.
The 24-year-old served his apprenticeship with the Tuhikaramea partnership and until last Saturday his best results for the stable had been the 2017 Gr. 2 Eight Carat Classic on Contessa Vanessa.
“Graeme and Debbie have given me so many opportunities – sometimes when I might not even have deserved them – so it meant a lot to get this one. It was great to do it for Gerry Harvey too, he’s been such a big supporter of the stable.”
Elliot’s tall frame means making weight is a constant challenge, but his belief in Sharp ’N’ Smart pushed his limits to getting down to 53.5kg for the Thorndon mount and 54kg on Saturday. He will have no such issues with the higher scale for the New Zealand Derby, for which Sharp ’N’ Smart is the dominant favourite.
Graeme Rogerson has long been well known for his ambitious approach to training, but there’s no denying the rewards that has accrued. He remains the only New Zealand trainer to win a Golden Slipper – Polar Success in 2003 – and Sharp ’N’ Smart is the perfect material for him to take on major events across the Tasman this autumn and through to the spring.
Australia has already been confirmed as the next stage point for BCD Group Sprint winner Imperatriz, who will now target the A$1.5 million Newmarket Handicap down the Flemington straight six on March 11.
“We’ve looked at our options and the way I see it, by setting her for a race like the Newmarket we won’t die wondering,” said trainer Mark Walker, who combined with stable rider Opie Bosson for a Te Rapa treble that took his incredible season tally to 124 wins.
“The best time to head to Aussie is when you’ve got a horse at the top of its game, and I would rate that win as her career-best performance.”
No-one who witnessed the demolition job Imperatriz executed on a field fated the best collection of domestic sprinters in years would disagree. Likewise her rider Opie Bosson, who had to contend with the riderless Mustang Valley in scenes reminiscent of James McDonald’s Royal Ascot win last June on Nature Strip.
The sight of the tangerine colours in such dominant form at Waikato headquarters means everything to Te Akau principals David and Karyn Ellis, both former chairs of the Waikato Racing Club and now hard at work syndicating their latest draft of Karaka yearling purchases