James and Wellwood synergies come up with a huge weekend

By Dennis Ryan

15 Dec 2021

James and Wellwood synergies come up with a huge weekendRobert Wellwood is flanked by owners Brent, Cherry and Faith Taylor and jockey Danielle Johnson afte

“Robert brought some valuable skills with him, both in horsemanship and commercial understanding.”
One has prepared more than 1,200 winners and the other less than 100, but together Cambridge training duo Roger James and Robert Wellwood complement each other perfectly.
That rang loud and clear on a massive day of racing at Te Rapa last weekend when Kingsclere Stables claimed a feature race hat-trick comprising Two Illicit in the Gr. 1 Rydges Wellington Captain Cook Stakes, Concert Hall in the Gr. 2 Cal Isuzu Stakes and Cheaperthandivorce in the Gr. 3 SkyCity Waikato Cup.
In a career spanning four decades, James has become recognised as one of the best in the business, whereas Wellwood has established his own place as one of the rising stars of the training profession since joining forces with James in 2017. A record five New Zealand Derby wins head James’s list of major successes, while Wellwood tasted Group One glory for the first time as co-trainer of Zabeel Classic winner Concert Hall just under a year ago.
Two Illicit had gone close to taking her senior co-trainer’s Derby tally to six when second to Sherwood Forest in the 2020 Ellerslie classic, however after a perfect ride from last season’s champion jockey Danielle Johnson on Saturday, the Jimmy Choux mare got her reward in the race that had been transferred from the previous week’s abandoned Trentham meeting to Te Rapa.
Two races earlier Johnson had likewise worn the green, red and gold stylised colours of owner-breeders Trelawney Stud when riding Cheaperthandivorce to victory in the Waikato Cup. “Unlocked” Auckland jockey Leith Innes also did the honours with aplomb for another valued owner-breeder stable client, Joan Egan, to win the Cal Isuzu Stakes on Concert Hall.
“It was a bit special to win those three races,” said James, who had left Te Rapa saddling duties to Wellwood while he attended to the stable’s two runners in the Gr. 3 Lawnmaster Eulogy Stakes at Awapuni. “I’ve been asked many times why I wasn’t at Te Rapa, but I’ve got every faith in Robert and the staff to manage when I can’t be there.
“The other thing is our Te Rapa team were horses we’re familiar with, whereas I wanted to observe our two lightly-tried fillies in the Eulogy, how they travelled and coped with everything. It’s all about getting to understand them.”
Previous start maiden winner Achieve did her best to add to the stable’s big day when second in the fillies’ feature, while stablemate Avalene, a Vadamos half-sister to Concert Hall and a winner on debut last month, was unplaced on the slow footing.
While James and Wellwood are separated in age by more than three decades, they share similar backgrounds, having competed successfully up to national level in showjumping and not initially becoming involved in racing. James worked in banking before being drawn back to horses, while Wellwood had a degree in business analysis when he joined the Kingsclere team.
“Robert brought some valuable skills with him, both in horsemanship and commercial understanding,” says James. “I probably don’t enjoy the commercial side of things as much as I do the horses themselves, so it’s been very stimulating for me to have Robert involved at that level.
“He’s starting to buy into the business with a plan we’ve put together; it’s great to see a young guy committing to the industry like that.
“Obviously Robert is a big part of what we are, but I have to acknowledge all the staff. We had our Christmas function the other night and it was very satisfying to see the team along with other key contributors all together enjoying themselves.”
With holiday season feature racing just around the corner, James is looking forward to having a two-pronged attack on the next race on the Group One schedule, the Zabeel Classic at Ellerslie on Boxing Day.
After their weekend heroics, Concert Hall and Two Illicit are rated equal on 104 ahead of an intriguing head-to-head at weight-for-age. Stable rider Vinnie Colgan, who missed last weekend due to suspension, will be back on Two Illicit, while a rider has yet to be confirmed for Concert Hall with Innes having committed to his unplaced Captain Cook Stakes mount Aegon.
Cheaperthandivorce, who incurred a four-point ratings rise to 93 for her Waikato Cup win, is the clear favourite to add the Gr. 3 SkyCity City of Auckland Cup on New Year’s Day.
Last weekend’s flood of success doesn’t necessarily mean that James and Wellwood will be opening the stable door to an influx of fresh talent.
“It’s always been my choice to train a team of around 40 with an absolute max of 45 at the peak time of the year,” says James. “I believe that’s a big part of our success, being able to keep close tabs on every horse in the stable and picking up on the extra 10 per cent that makes the difference.”