A Million reasons to be at Ellerslie

8 min read

By Bren O'Brien

The riches are on offer at Ellerslie on Saturday with $1 million up for grabs for both the 2-year-olds and the 3-year-olds in the Karaka Million races.

The evening race meeting, which features six races, five at stakes-level, has become enormously popular over the past few years.

Juveniles highlight the twilight

Ellerslie, Listed Karaka Million 2YO, NZ$1,000,000

The Listed Karaka Million 2YO is the headline event as usual, with the past two winners, Melody Belle (NZ) (Commands) and Avantage (Fastnet Rock) having both gone on to be subsequent Group 1 winners.

Whiskey Neat (Denman) starts favourite and rightly so based on his two starts to date. He won by 10 lengths on debut at Otaki and backed that up with a tough all-the-way win in the G3 Eclipse S. at this track on New Year's Day. He's again drawn to go to the front and prove hard to catch.

Aotea Lad (NZ) (Savabeel), who was a winner on debut at Trentham, was very good from the rear of the field in that race, finishing just a length behind Whiskey Neat. From a wide barrier, you’d expect him to settle near the back again, but should there be pressure in the race, he comes right into calculations.

Exuberant (NZ) stuck on well for third in the Eclipse S. and was first-up off a break there, so will undoubtedly improve off that run. His challenge is where he gets to from barrier 15.

Neptune's Spear (NZ) (Super Easy {NZ}) arrives off a couple of runs in Brisbane for Liam Birchley. He won his first start and was a tad disappointing when beaten at his second start on the pace. Measuring up that form to New Zealand's best is hard, but Birchley has won this race twice before so knows what it takes.

The best of the fillies looks to be Probabeel (NZ) (Savabeel), who has won her past two, the most recent a couple of weeks back, where she surged late to nab one of her rivals here in Yourdeel (NZ) (Dundeel {NZ}). Drawn wide, she’ll likely again sit back and surge late, and looms as a filly who will get over a bit of distance in time.

Ellerslie, Listed Karaka Million 3YO Classic, NZ$1,000,000

The Listed Karaka Million 3YO Classic sees dual Group 1 winner Madison County (NZ) (Pins) looking to make it a hat-trick of wins having won the G1 NZ 2000 Guineas and the G1 Levin Classic at his past two starts.

He needed a bit of luck to find the gaps to get through last time and with a big field engaged here, Matthew Cameron will need to make sure he gets into clear air to deliver his customary strong finish.

Surely Sacred (NZ) (Rock 'n' Pop) has emerged as a 3-year-old of top quality in the past couple of months, claiming the G2 Auckland Guineas last time at just his third run. He swept home from last out deep in that race, showcasing his impressive turn of foot, but with barrier four here, Leith Innes will be careful he doesn’t get bailed up.

The Australian horse Long Leaf (Fastnet Rock) is an interesting one to fit into this race. He won his first three starts, but hasn't saluted in ten starts since, however five of them have been in Group 1 company.

On his best form, which includes a third in the G2 Sandown Guineas at the end of last preparation, he is right in this.

The fillies Queen of Diamonds (NZ) (Savabeel) and Miss Labasa (NZ) (Swiss Ace) are both capable of upsets too. Miss Labasa is unbeaten in three starts, improving at every trip to the races, including a strong win at Awapuni last time out, while Queen of Diamonds was placed on the G2 Eight Carat Classic last time out, having won the G3 Eulogy S. at her previous start.

Ellerslie, G2 Westbury Classic, 1400m, NZ$100,000

The Group 2 Westbury Classic for the fillies and mares sees Volpe Veloce (Foxwedge) aiming for further stakes success. She was fourth the G1 Sistema Railway last time out, a race she won last year, and should improve off that run into what looks, on paper, an easier race.

Emerging mare Le Castile (NZ) (Dalghar {Fr}) looks her main rival in this, having won back-to-back races at Tauranga and Ellerslie her past two, while Livin' On a Prayer (NZ) (Redwood {GB}) drops back from runs in Group 1 mile races her past two and, at her best, can be competitive here.

Ellerslie, G3 Mongolian Khan Trophy, 1200m, NZ$70,000

The G3 Mongolian Khan Trophy features several talented 3-year-old sprinters, including Sword of Osman (NZ) (Savabeel), who was a Group 1-winning 2-year-old and was sharp enough to beat the likes of Madison County at Group 2 level in the spring.

He resumed with an easy win at this track and distance last time out but does carry top weight of 60.5kg under the set weights and penalties of this race.

Cyber Attack (NZ) (Shamexpress {NZ}) was a Listed winner last campaign and resumes off a spell, while Princess Amelie (Snitzel) has the quality to be in the mix here.

Burgundy Belle (NZ) is unbeaten in two starts, but steps up significantly in class, along with last Te Aroha winner Maison Roxanne (NZ) (Snitzel).

Ellerslie, G3 Preferment@Brighthill Farm Concorde Hcp, 1200m, NZ$70,000

The G3 Preferment@Brighthill Farm Concorde Hcp sees G1 Sistema Railway winner Santa Monica (Per Incanto {USA}) at the top of the weights conceding Ardrossan (Redoute's Choice), a winner on his return from Australia at Te Aroha, 7.5kg.

Ardossan's Aussie jaunt was less than successful, but he looks a horse who will relish being back in New Zealand where he can step though his classes under the guidance of Stephen Marsh

Princess Kereru (NZ) (Pins) was second in the Railway, having beaten Santa Monica at level weights the start before and it wouldn’t shock to see her back in the winner's circle.

Blue Diamond Series gets underway

The two divisions of Blue Diamond Previews highlight Australia Day at Caulfield.

Caulfield, Listed Ladbrokes Blue Diamond Preview (C & G), 1000m, $160,000

The Listed Ladbrokes Blue Diamond Preview for the colts and geldings sees Godolphin pair Microphone (Exceed and Excel) and Auxin (Exceed and Excel) resume their rivalry from Flemington where Microphone was victorious by less than a length.

Both look typically precocious James Cummings 2-year-olds, but the wide barrier might make things a little more complicated for Microphone this time around. Alburq (Rubick) has the grounding to be competitive as well off two placed runs to date.

I Am Immortal (I Am Invincible) looks the pick of the unraced brigade here, having dominated from the front in a recent Pakenham trial. He looks to be a pure speed 2-year-old who will make his own luck in front.

Caulfield, Group 3 Ladbrokes Blue Diamond Preview (Fillies), 1000m, $160,000

In the Group 3 Ladbrokes Blue Diamond Preview for the fillies all eyes will be on Catch Me (I Am Invincible), who was super impressive winning the G3 Gimcrack S. at Randwick back in September and has tuned up for this with a trial win.

She heads the market along with fellow I Am Invincible filly Jedastar, a recent Flemington winner, but both are drawn wide. In contrast, Catch Me's stablemate Anaheed (Fastnet Rock), a four-length Randwick winner on debut back in October, jumps from barrier two and should get the right run.

Pretty Brazen (Brazen Beau) split the two Godolphin colts at Flemington and should they perform well, it augurs well for her chances here, while of the unraced, Shih Tzou (Zoustar) is the highest rated off a close up third in a trial behind Catch Me.

Caulfield, Listed John Dillon S. 1400m, $140,000

Caulfield also features the Listed John Dillon S. which looks an even race.

Last-start stakes winner Manolo Blahniq (NZ) (Jimmy Choux (NZ) and front-running pair Arbeitsam (Snitzel) and Theanswermyfriend (High Chaparral {Ire}) are the leading chances.

Waller eyes Listed success at Randwick

Randwick, Listed Carrington S., 1400m, $150,000

At Randwick, the Listed Carrington S. features a four-pronged attack from Chris Waller.

Endless Drama (Ire) (Lope De Vega {Ire}) resumes off an impressive trial win and was good enough to win the G2 Apollo S. this time last year, which looks good form for this.

Perennial placegetter Tom Melbourne (Ire) (Dylan Thomas {Ire}) also resumes in a company of race he is capable of winning, especially given his strong first-up record, while Religify (Choisir) can also figure fresh.

But it is the Gai Waterhouse and Adrian Bott-trained Penske (Sebring), the progressive 5-year-old who was a winner at this track and distance in December, who looks the one to beat.

Sunshine Coast, Listed Coastline BMW Sunshine Coast Cup, 1400m $125,000

Gaulois (Street Cry {Ire}) has been scratched from that race to be sent to Queensland for the Listed BMW Coastline Sunshine Coast Cup, which looks an ideal race for him to break through for his first win of the campaign.

Among his rivals is former stablemate Spectroscope (USA) (Medaglia d'Oro {USA}), having his first start for Natalie McCall, while in-form Bergerac (Drumbeats), a winner of the Listed Bernborough Handicap two starts back, looks the best of the local chances.