Cambridge claims Karaka Millions honours

By Dennis Ryan

31 Jan 2024

Cambridge claims Karaka Millions honoursColin Litt escorts his Karaka Million 3YO winner Orchestral back to the winner’s stall at Ellersli

Cambridge trainers – and one of the Waikato town’s very own in the jockey ranks – were the emphatic winners of two of New Zealand’s most publicised races, the TAB Karaka Millions 2YO and 3YO at last Saturday’s unique Ellerslie twilight meeting.
It wasn’t exactly a first for any of the above to be taking home the lion’s share of the huge prizes on offer, nor was there any great surprise that everything fell into place for the connections of Velocious and Orchestral.
Stephen Marsh’s previous taste of Karaka Millions 2YO success came in 2013 with the champion juvenile of her year, Ruud Awakening, and it was another carrying the Go Racing colours that brought an end to the seven-year rein by racing’s other major syndicator, Te Akau.
In commoner’s language Velocious means agile and fast, a perfect moniker for the Written Tycoon filly who has looked just that since day one. Her racing career began in November with wins at Te Rapa and Pukekohe before she had to settle for third in the Gr. 2 Eclipse Stakes at Pukekohe on New Year’s Day.
Satisfied that she was right on target for her big target a moth later, Marsh was content to give the flashy chestnut a sedate stroll around the new Ellerslie track. She maintained her place at the top of the market when she came up with barrier seven and the money just kept coming as she tightened to start at even money. James McDonald took care of the rest, finding a perfect spot for Velocious behind the pace and then bringing her through to race away for a length and a half win.
Marsh, runner-up in the past four trainers’ premierships and second again on current standings to Te Akau incumbents Mark Walker and Sam Bergerson, would have derived additional pleasure to master the tangerine army’s best on the night, runner-up Damask Rose.
Velocious had been signed for at $190,000 at last year’s National Sale from the Inglewood Stud draft, another hugely satisfying result for Gus and Bianca Wigley’s ambitious investment in broodmares over the past decade, complemented by judicious stallion selection.
“To breed the winner of this race means so much for us,” Gus Wigley said afterwards. “I’m a bit over people thinking that the only decent horses bred in the South Island are jumpers and two-milers.
“Of course that’s not true – there’s any number of examples that prove otherwise – but it’s great to see one of our own do this, for all of us at Inglewood it’s a wonderful feeling.”
In the days following, Inglewood’s half-sister by Dundeel to Velocious was to top its Karaka Book 1 draft at $300,000 – and to who else but Go Racing.
McDonald claimed his first Karaka Millions 2YO on Velcoious, whereas it was five years between drinks when he added the Karaka Millions 3YO on the Roger James/Robert Wellwood-trained Orchestral. Back in 2019 McDonald won the second running of the three-year-old Karaka graduates’ race on the Fastnet Rock colt Long Leaf, whose Coolmore-oriented ownership group included Sir Peter Vela.
James and Wellwood had also been victorious 12 months ago with Prowess, while it was a second Karaka Millions 3YO success for Savabeel, whose daughter Probabeel remains the only horse to win both age-group KM races.
Orchestral was bred by the Ashburton-based Barneswood Farm and changed hands at Karaka 2022 when James and Wellwood selected her at $625,000 for long-time client Colin Litt. Karaka Millions night was a case of double delight for Barneswood Farm principals Sarah Green and Ger Beemsterboer after Desert Lightning carried their colours to victory in the inaugural Elsdon Park Aotearoa Classic.
The Pride of Dubai gelding had been signed for at $150,000 at Karaka 2021 and after a frustrating run of major placings in his first two seasons, he has come into his own as a four-year-old with wins as well in the Gr. 1 TAB Classic to now have topped $1 million in stakes.
Vinnie Colgan, who served his apprenticeship with Roger James back in the early 1990s and has ridden Desert Lighting throughout his three and four-year-old career, was uncompromising last Saturday as he pressed the button on Desert Lightning rounding the turn to upstage the odds-on favourite Legarto.