Westbury Classic shines spotlight on fillies and mares

By Richard Edmunds

20 Jan 2022

Westbury Classic shines spotlight on fillies and maresLast Saturday’s Telegraph winner Levante is the sixth Group One-winning mare in the last seven yea

“What this race has become in such a short space of time is quite remarkable, and we’re very proud of it.”
For Westbury Stud general manager and former Auckland Racing Club board member Russell Warwick, one of the highlights of every Karaka Million meeting is a race that has risen from nowhere to become one of the most coveted prizes on New Zealand’s fillies and mares’ calendar.
The Westbury Classic was introduced from scratch in 2006 as a $35,000 race for fillies and mares during the Auckland Cup Carnival in March, won in each of its first two years by the John Sargent-trained Sarajay. It became a black-type race in 2009 and has gone from strength to strength since, soaring to Group Two status in 2016 and rising to an all-time high stake of $150,000 this Saturday.
In six of the last seven years, the Westbury Classic has been won by a previous or subsequent Group One winner – Diademe, Perfect Fit, Thee Auld Floozie (twice), Volpe Veloce and Levante. The 1400-metre race has become a source of real pride for Warwick, who was a driving force behind its inception.
“Australia, and particularly Melbourne, regularly stages quality races for fillies and mares,” he told RaceForm this week. “Those sorts of races are very attractive to breeders, and it’s also an appealing option from a trainer’s point of view – racing a mare against their own sex, rather than taking on the boys.
“I was on the board of the Auckland Racing Club at the time when this race was established, and my feeling was that the major club in the country should be staging a significant race for fillies and mares. What this race has become in such a short space of time is quite remarkable, and we’re very proud of it.”
One of the key phases in the Westbury Classic’s development came in 2018, when it shifted to January to join the star-studded Karaka Million card.
“For a number of years, that meeting just had the Karaka Million alongside a series of special-conditions maiden races, which didn’t really showcase New Zealand racing and breeding to the level that it should,” Warwick said.
“With a couple of million-dollar Karaka Million races, along with the Stayers’ Cup and three other Group races, it now makes for a wonderful spectacle for both the international visitors and the domestic stakeholders. It’s become one of the most exciting and sought-after meetings on the New Zealand calendar, and it’s one that we’re very happy to be involved with as sponsors.
“With the Westbury Classic moving, we have started a new race during Auckland Cup week for the fillies and mares, the Royal Descent Stakes, which is now building good momentum during Auckland Cup week and seen as an opportunity for the fairer sex to race for good levels of prize-money as they look to establish their ongoing value ahead of their breeding careers.”
Westbury Stud will also have a keen interest in this weekend’s Karaka Million night from the perspective of their graduates and stallions.
The DoubleTree by Hilton Karaka Million 2YO is set to feature the El Roca filly Gwen Stephani, who was a $50,000 purchase by Rogerson Bloodstock from Westbury’s Book 2 draft at Karaka 2021.
“Her connections were very keen to have the chance to participate in a million-dollar race, and being by El Roca, we’d be very happy if she could pull it off,” Warwick said. “But she’s probably going to be up against it a little bit. She was injured after winning at Matamata in the early spring, and she only resumed last week with a placing at Tauranga. It’s a big ask, and she’ll probably need to find a few lengths to be competitive.
“There could be a couple of exciting three-year-olds in action as well – Te Toki (by Tarzino) in the Karaka Million 3YO Classic, and Wewillrock (El Roca) in the Almanzor Trophy.
“Te Toki is a smart horse. The Karaka Million has been on his connections’ wish list for some time, and with the Tarzinos really starting to shape up as mile and middle-distance horses, it should hopefully be a nice stepping stone towards the Derby.”
Westbury’s stallion roster of Reliable Man, Tarzino, El Roca, Redwood, Swiss Ace and Telperion has been firing on all cylinders, and that strong form has rolled on in recent weeks with Tarzino’s first stakes winner Gypsy Goddess, along with the exploits of El Roca’s sons Mali Ston in the Gr. 2 Rich Hill Mile and White Noise in the Gr. 3 Wellington Stakes and Listed Gingernuts Salver.
“We’ve had near on 100 winners off the farm since August 1, including seven stakes winners,” Warwick said. “That includes the likes of Lucky Patch, Mascarpone and The Inferno. It’s been a hugely rewarding season for our graduates and stallions.
“The reason we’re here is to breed these horses and see them come out and be competitive on the racetrack. For all of these connections who buy horses off us or breed to our stallions, it means a lot to us to see them have success out of that.”