New Zealand Cup a real Myers family affair

By Dennis Ryan

16 Nov 2022

New Zealand Cup a real Myers family affairTina Comignaghi and Jason Myers with New Zealand Cup winner Aljay

While Kevin Myers is the one with the name in the book, there’s no getting away from the part that family plays in the master Wanganui horseman’s massively successful operation.
No better example was the victory by the Myers-trained and part-owned Aljay in Monday’s Martin Collins New Zealand Cup. While the boss held the fort back at his Whangaehu Valley headquarters, his partner Angela Ilston and their son Jason were in charge of the team competing at the New Zealand Cup carnival.
In the case of Aljay, it’s a far wider story involving family and close friends right from the Rock ’N’ Pop gelding’s earliest days. Aljay was bred by Jim Wallace, the son of Ardsley Stud founders Jim and Margaret Wallace, whose most celebrated stallion was Aljay’s damsire Lord Ballina.
Jim Wallace junior’s wife Mary is Kevin Myers’ first cousin, her mother Joan being a sister to the patriarch of the Myers family, Kevin’s father Bill. There were similar links to Lord Ballina gelding Titch, the Myers-trained winner of the 2011 Auckland Cup. He was bred by Jim Wallace senior and raced by him in partnership with his wife Margaret.
Aljay was sold as a weanling for $10,000 at the 2018 NZB Mixed Bloodstock Sale, but didn’t go far, having been purchased by Jim Wallace Junior’s son, bloodstock agent Michael, who handed him back to his father with the aim of preparing him the for the following year’s Ready to Run Sale.
That’s when Kevin Myers entered the picture, bidding $39,000 for the plain but well coupled bay. An obvious attraction was that his half-brother Tallyhoe Twinkletoes had only weeks earlier claimed his historic Australian Grand National Hurdle-Steeplechase double on the way to becoming one of the very best of Myer’s legion of jumps stars.
“I actually got the heads-up from Stacey Dougan, who had been riding him in his Ready to Run preparation,” Myers told RaceForm earlier this week. “I had already had a lot of the breed, so it all added up.”
Myers didn’t look far to find someone to take into partnership in his new recruit, opting for a long-time associate, former Hawera trainer Charlie Gestro, who also happens to be related to Myers by marriage.
“Charlie and I have a raced a lot of horses together, he spends a lot of time around here and whatever I say goes.”
Gestro, whose initials L J led to the horse’s name, was a jumps jockey in the 1960s when his best win was the 1968 Great Northern Steeplechase on the Allan Lupton-trained Royal Polo. He then trained in partnership with renowned Hawera trainer Wally McEwan, during the time of Fury’s Order, winner of the New Zealand Derby and 2000 Guineas and the Cox Plate.
New Zealand Cup plans were hatched after Aljay won over 2000m in Rating 75 grade at the Grand National carnival in early August. When the TAB released its early market for the Riccarton two-miler, the money for the emerging Myers stayer said he was definitely headed in that direction.
Even though he didn’t win again in his four-race build-up, the support never abated and his dress rehearsal second in the Metropolitan Trophy a week out from the big one confirmed Aljay’s position at the top of the betting.
Myers also had his 2021 New Zealand Cup winner Mondorani in the field, but on the day Aljay was clearly superior. Tina Comignaghi, one of the Myers team’s favourite go-to jockeys on southern raids, followed her instructions to the letter, settling well off the speed and relying on her mount’s fitness to work his way through the pack from the 600m and then fight off the brave runner-up Inmyshadow.
Once again family came into the picture, Inmyshadow having been a former stable member before being handed over to Myers’ nephew Ashley Meadows when he lost one of his team.
Comignaghi described the biggest win of her career since emigrating from Argentina with her “lost for words” post-race comment. To recap, the 33-year-old with that special knack on horseback now has 286 wins to her name, including 12 at stakes level and the race that every South Island-based jockey aspires to.