Ever-confident Kelt back with another Derby winner

By Dennis Ryan

9 Mar 2022

Ever-confident Kelt back with another Derby winnerNZ Derby victors Sam Kelt and his wife Birdie are flanked by their sons Benny (left) and Hamish, wit

Confidence comes in various forms when racing’s biggest prizes are on the line.
It can be based on realistic expectations, or perhaps that less tangible known as pure optimism. Last-start maiden winner Asterix had both brands of confidence riding with him when he went to the start for last Saturday’s $1 million Vodafone NZ Derby.
On the one hand were trainers Lance O’Sullivan and Andrew Scott, both well versed in what it takes to win the country’s premier classic and knowing that it’s more than just a matter of turning up. On the other was principal owner Sam Kelt, likewise a Derby winner going all the way back to his Dave and Paul O’Sullivan-trained filly Popsy in 1993, and an eternal optimist to boot.
In the near three decades since his Sir Tristram filly’s big win, Kelt has ridden the highs and lows not only of racing but also the world of commerce. At his peak his investment company was the force behind racing’s richest race, the Kelt Capital Stakes, which in the late 2000’s ballooned to a purse of $2 million.
But then Kelt’s fortunes foundered and he was on the outer of both the commercial and racing worlds. Undeterred, he dusted himself off, rebuilt his business network, and in late 2020 decided on another throw of the racing dice.
Enter bloodstock agent Bruce Perry, who along with O’Sullivan and Scott was commissioned to find a couple of likely sorts from the NZ Bloodstock Ready to Run Sale. The brief included an open cheque of some substance, and Bruce Perry Bloodstock signed for two colts, Curraghmore’s Tavistock from Mourasana at $450,000 and Lyndhurst Farm’s Dundeel from Lodore Falls at $200,000.
The following year was all about developing the pair before they both made their race debut on the same day at Matamata in the second week of January. The Dundeel colt, named Cacofonix, made no bones about his assignment and after a miss in his next start, was a winner again on his home track late last month. That put him on target for the Gr. 1 Levin Classic at Trentham on Saturday week.
Tavistock gelding Asterix took slightly longer to hit his straps with midfield finishes in his first two starts at 1400 and 1600m, but then finding his mojo when stepped up to 2100m at Tauranga in mid-February.
Part of Kelt’s Ready to Run Sale brief to Perry and co had been typically ambitious: “Buy me a horse that can win the Derby and the Melbourne Cup!” So for O’Sullivan and Scott there was no getting out of what would be next for Asterix after that maiden win. His form was a long way short of what the Wexford Stables partners’ dual Guineas winner Rocket Spade had shown on his way to Derby victory 12 months earlier, but in Kelt’s mind the Derby was a natural fit.
In O’Sullivan’s words, it was “a very good Opie Bosson ride” to get Asterix up for his maiden win, but any hopes of maintaining that partnership in the Derby were scuttled by a suspension to the country’s leading big-race jockey. However they found a more than able substitute in Jonathan Parkes.
“Ellerslie’s a funny track,” says the well-qualified O’Sullivan. “Some jockeys just don’t seem to ride it well, but there are others who have a real affinity with it. Jonathan is one of them and he pulled out a big one for us when we needed it.
“Going into the race everyone was saying there would be no pace, but my take on that was I’d never seen a Derby where there wasn’t, so we told Jonathan to take his time and see what unfolded.”
While hot favourite La Crique was jammed up amongst runners, Parkes sent Asterix on a sweeping run that had him within reach of the leaders on the home turn and in front for the final 200m. La Crique closed bravely but she was still a length and half behind at the line.
Perhaps the most incredible part of the O’Sullivan/Kelt Derby double was that Asterix ran the exact same time for the 2400m – 2:27.24 – as Popsy all those years before.
“I joked to Sam afterwards that even with the benefit of 30 years’ experience we haven’t improved even a fraction of a second,” O’Sullivan quipped.
In reality that was of little consequence, especially to Kelt, who races Asterix in partnership with his wife Birdie, long-time Havelock North friends Andrew and Lauren Scott (no relation to the horse’s four-time Derby-winning co-trainer) and former Black Caps cricketer Mark Greatbatch, these days resident in Queenstown after becoming acquainted with Kelt while living in Hawkes Bay.
“It’s such a privilege to win another Derby,” commented the ever-ebullient Kelt. “We’re lucky to have a lot of very capable and knowledgeable people on our side, and here we are with a horse that could be anything.
“We bought him to win a Derby and maybe even a Melbourne Cup, so he’s going for a well-deserved rest now and then he’ll be set for a Melbourne spring campaign.”
Kelt’s return to racing headlines is the defining chapter in a comeback that seemed unlikely a decade ago following the collapse and subsequent litigation of Kelt Capital partner South Canterbury Finance.
“We were the victim of major fraud that cost me over $40 million,” Kelt says with a surprising lack of malice. “I guess we walked into the wrong paddock and paid a heavy price. It was all pretty ugly and it’s taken a long time to come back from.
“But hey, we’re here and we’re smiling. This week we decided to go back to the (Karaka) sales, not because we’ve just won the Derby, but if we happen to see a horse we like and the price is right, it might be the next one for us to have a bit of fun with.”