Massive weekend delivered on the track and stage

By Dennis Ryan

13 Sep 2023

Massive weekend delivered on the track and stageSkew Wiff (Opie Bosson) fights off Dragon Leap and Legarto for victory in the Gr. 1 Tarzino Trophy.

Last weekend promised plenty and delivered in spades, on the track and off, and on both sides of the Tasman.
Saturday at Hastings racecourse ushered in the opening day of the Colliers Hawke’s Bay Spring Carnival headlined by the Gr. 1 Westbury Stud Tarzino Trophy and two black-type races for new season three-year-olds.
In Australia the Melbourne and Sydney spring carnival action gained further momentum, while on Sunday the thoroughbred industry gathered in Auckland to celebrate the stars of the 2022-23 season at the New Zealand Thoroughbred Awards function.
Everyone with a handle on the feature race calendar over the past two decades was united in the opinion that Saturday’s season-opening Group One race was of vintage quality. With no less than nine individual Group One winners in the 16-horse Tarzino Trophy field, the majority also agreed that this was the best ever.
The contest that ensued in the 1400m weight-for-age feature lived right up that billing, as Skew Wiff, a four-year-old daughter of Savabeel who had finished second at Group One in her final two autumn starts, carried the Waikato Stud colours to victory. Chasing hard but failing by two long-neck margins to master her, Dragon Leap and Legarto completed a Matamata trifecta.
Te Akau’s record-breaking trainer had a day to remember. Earlier on the Hastings card Walker and stable jockey Opie Bosson claimed both three-year-old features. Last season’s champion two-year-old in waiting was in another class to his rivals in the Listed El Roca-Sir Colin Meads Trophy, while the rapidly emerging Quintessa completed an unbeaten hat-trick with her win over dual stakes winner Chantilly Lace in the Gr. 3 Hawke’s Bay Breeders Gold Trail Stakes.
Those two races bracketed Walker’s fourth winner, Fashion Shoot, who made the most of a clever ride by stable apprentice Niranjan Parmar to add a fifth win to her record in Rating 75 grade.
Te Akau’s big day had one further important scene to play out, with stable star Imperatriz kicking off her five-year-old campaign in the Gr. 2 McEwen Stakes at the track they now call The Valley. There was a far greater mission than a 14th career win from 20 starts for the electric mare, a load shared by newly appointed assistant trainer Ben Gleeson. He was tasked to make a splash for Te Akau’s Cranbourne stable and came up with a perfect start as Imperatriz breezed by her rivals for an emphatic victory.
Gleeson is a Victorian native and Imperatriz is Australian-bred, but what a Kiwi flavour this mighty win embodied. The McEwen Stakes is named in honour of the late Ian McEwen, the former New Zealand racing administrator who took his innovative approach to the Moonee Valley Racing Club and turned the W S Cox Plate into the weight-for-age championship it has been for the past 30 years or more.
Topping it all off, Imperatriz was expertly ridden by expat Mick Dee, whose time in his homeland included honing his apprentice skills at Te Akau’s Matamata base.
So to Auckland for the 2022-23 Thoroughbred Awards. Some of the trophy presentations are pre-ordained under the premiership standings, but there’s never any lack of anticipation ahead of such gatherings as to the consensus amongst the 60-odd members of the voting panel.
Last Sunday was no different. At the end of the night, Redwood gelding Sharp ’N’ Smart had broken the female stranglehold on the supreme Hore of the Year Award, ever so narrowly by 24 votes versus the 22 accorded Imperatriz.
Sharp ’N’ Smart also claimed the Champion Three-Year-Old title from a field stacked with possibilities, claiming more than half the votes ahead of Prowess, Legarto, Pennyweka and Pier. The strength of last season’s three-year-old crop was not only underlined by Sharp ’N’ Smart’s ultimate award but also by Prioisir filly Prowess taking the Champion Middle-Distance Award and Satono Aladdin filly Pennyweka the Champin Stayer Award.
Imperatriz was the very predictable winner of the Champion Sprinter trophy with a dominant 56 votes, likewise her stablemate Tokyo Tycoon in the contest for Champion Two-Year-Old with 45. Conjecture around the Champion Jumper award was totally dominated by defending title-holder The Cossack and steeplechase star West Coast, but in the end it was the latter who emerged a clear winner with 41 votes versus 19.
The various human awards were all well-received by the capacity crowd in attendance, including commentator and administrator George Simon’s Outstanding Contribution to Racing accolade, Ancroft Stud couple Philip and Catherine Brown’s Owner of the Year, and New Zealand Bloodstock’s Sydney-based representative Mike Kneebone’s Global Achievement Award.
Amongst licence-holders, the “battle of the Shauns” saw Shaun Fannin claim another Champion Jumps Jockey trophy and colleague Shaun Phelan stepping up for the Newcomer to Training Award. With Fannin now following suit as an emerging trainer alongside his achievements in the saddle, what greater evidence is needed of jumps racing’s value as a breeding ground for the future?
Michael McNab’s battle with discipline have been well documented during his rise to the top of the jockeys’ table and another Champion Jockeys’ trophy served as a reminder, while the hard workers of the industry were well served when Megan Winter, a key member of the Kelso stable’s achievements with star performers Levante and Legarto, took home the keenly-contested Stablehand of the Year award.
At the end of the night, the ultimate glory belonged to Team Rogerson and a group of Sharp ’N’ Smart owners that includes the big gelding’s breeder Gerry Harvey.
From multiple trainers’ premierships and victory in virtually every domestic feature to Melbourne Cup and Golden Slipper victories in Australia, for Hall of Fame trainer Graeme Rogerson, this was a first Horse of the Year title.
Never short of a witty quip nor ambitious statement, Rogerson was also intent in paying credit to all others in his latest achievement, including a key mainstay through the years.
“It’s great when you’ve got a wife like Debbie,” he said. “She does all the work while I do all the talking!”