Te Rapa delivers a memorable start to the New Year

By Dennis Ryan

4 Jan 2023

Te Rapa delivers a memorable start to the New YearImperatriz (Opie Bosson) capped a massive New Year’s Day at Te Rapa for Te Akau trainer Mark Walke

For the racing purist New Year’s Day 2023 was markedly different with Ellerslie out of action, but the alternative Te Rapa venue still delivered something special as the best of the best did battle.
A programme headed by six black-type races always promised plenty and it didn’t disappoint. The feature card was dominated by three stables, Mark Walker again the headline act with three wins topped by a third consecutive Gr. 1 Sistema Railway for Te Akau and stable rider Opie Bosson as he drove Imperatriz hard to grab the breakaway Babylon Berlin on the line.
Walker’s big day out also included quinellas by Campionesa and Belle En Rouge in the Gr. 2 Rich Hill Mile and two-year-old pair Trobriand and Talisker to further strengthen Te Akau’s Karaka Million 2YO hand. And of course both those winners were also ridden in masterly fashion by Bosson.
To say the current season has been dominated by Walker, who has been associated with Te Akau principal David Ellis his whole working life, would be a massive under-statement. Retaking the reins at Te Akau’s Matamata operation after Jamie Richards’ record-breaking achievements had potential challenges but there have been no chinks in the determined conditioner’s armour.
Campionesa’s Rich Hill Mile win took Walker’s 2022-23 black-type tally to 15, and after a five-win feast on his home track on Tuesday, his 95 wins took him even further ahead of his rivals to an unimaginable lead of 56. As a further illustration of the dominant force that Te Akau has become, with less than half the season completed, Walker is only 13 wins short of the record-breaking tally of 108 wins in his final season before departing for Singapore in 2010.
Just what Walker’s full season will look like when the curtain comes down at the end of July is an open question, but with a current list of achievements headed by Group One wins by Prise De Fer and Imperatriz who knows how high the bar will have been raised?
Imperatriz’s nose win in the Railway over Babylon Berlin was the closest and most exciting finish of the day, while the easiest feature success belonged to Polygon in the Gr. 2 Elsdon Park Royal Stakes. Cambridge Stud’s Highly Recommended filly had won the Eulogy Stakes two weeks earlier at Te Rapa and the step up to 2000m took her to another level.
It also took her to second place behind Legarto on the New Zealand Bloodstock Filly of the Year table, putting her in a challenging position should connections make the logical decision for a late New Zealand Oaks entry.
Polygon’s Royal Stakes win completed a race-to-race double for trainer Lance Noble and his employers, Cambridge Stud owners Brendan and Jo Lindsay, after another home-bred, Aquacade, scored a narrow but easy win in the Dunstan Feeds Stayers Championship Final.
Noble is having a golden run with the select team based at Lindsay Racing’s Karaka property, with a season tally that now stands at 12 wins (three black-type) from 51 starters.
Even if at arm’s length, his big day out would have been shared with a former associate, Cambridge-based Roger James, who with his training partner Robert Wellwood landed a double with Prowess in the Gr. 2 Jamieson Park Auckland Guineas and Dionysus in the Gr. 3 Windsor Park Stud Queen Elizabeth ll Cup.
James and Noble are both protégés of one of New Zealand racing’s great mentors, Hall of Fame trainer Jim Gibbs, and both trained in partnership with Gibbs before launching their own successful careers.
James has long been recognised as one of the very best in his profession, and the recruitment of Wellwood has brought fresh impetus to Kingsclere Stables. James looked to owners whose input to his career dates back to its very beginnings for his two most recent big winners.
Ocean Park gelding Dionysus, who won the Queen Elizabeth ll Cup on the anniversary of last year’s Dunstan Stayers Final success, is raced by Wellington couple Ron and Fran Dixon, who have been constants in James’s 40-year career.
Dean Skipper, the principal owner of Proisir filly Prowess, was involved in those early days also, and reappeared with a request for James to find a likely sort at the 2021 Karaka Sales. That $230,000 purchase is now one of the country’s real movers in three-year-old ranks.