Small Kiwi challenge still capable of taking the Melbourne Cup

The New Zealand-bred runners in this year's Melbourne Cup are: Distinctly Secret (bred by Te Akau Stud, Waikato), Zagalia (Terry Jarvis, Auckland) and Piachay (Don & Rochelle McLaren, Auckland).

All are Group One winners with Distinctly Secret carrying the bulk of New Zealand hopes as the only Kiwi-owned and -trained horse in the field. A truly professional competitor, he has a fine chance of improving on his sixth in last year's Cup.

The merit of Zagalia's Queensland Oaks G1 win during the winter was lost in the post-race fuss about runner-up The Jewel, but she's posted very good form this spring, most notably a fourth in the Cox Plate G1. She's one of the best lightweight chances.

Unfortunately, Piachay is well and truly out of form and a good performance by him tomorrow can't be expected with confidence.

A fourth runner, Pentastic, is by the exciting New Zealand-based sire Pentire, but was actually foaled in Australia. Apart from a poor run in the Caulfield Cup, he's looked very good through this campaign and came right into Cup contention with a scintillating second in Saturday's MacKinnon Stakes G1.

Surprise is being expressed in some quarters about the small size of New Zealand's representation in this year's Cup.

That's partly a measure of the truly remarkable record of New Zealand-bred horses in the race: 31 wins from the last 51 renewals, including some of the best performances in Cup history. Think Rising Fast in 1954, Light Fingers in 1965, Galilee in 1966, Think Big in 1974 & 1975, Kiwi in 1983, Empire Rose in 1988, Let's Elope in 1991, Might And Power in 1997, Jezabeel in 1998 and Ethereal two years ago. Bred in New Zealand, one and all.

Possibly the only surprise should be that it has taken some parts of New Zealand's thoroughbred industry so long to recognise what has been obvious for some time to the NZTBA and others that have battled for years to raise the industry's domestic performance and build a strong, broad base for its offshore promotion.

For several reasons, the percentage of New Zealand-bred runners in Australian races has fallen steadily over the past ten to fifteen years. The consequent decline in their overall performance in major races across the Tasman was masked to some degree by a handful of Kiwi-bred champions (Octagonal, Might And Power, Sunline) who each won a large number of Group races and maintained the high profile of the (NZ) brand from 1995 until last year.

Now, without a heavyweight in our ranks, the Kiwi-bred team across the Tasman suddenly looks thin although this spring has not been entirely bereft of highlights: Unearthly's Flight Stakes G1 win, and other Group victories by Egyptian Raine, Rosina Lad, Zanna, Studebaker, Scaredee Cat, Shower Of Roses, Zabarra and Allgunadoit.

How can we increase our representation in Australia, especially in major race fields, and regain our dominance of the major races in which we have such a distinguished record?

Inspired and dynamic leadership of domestic racing, a high standard of industry governance and the restoration of the investment base that drives New Zealand thoroughbred breeding and racing should just about do it. Paradoxically, the fact that questions are being asked about New Zealand's representation in the Melbourne Cup may be a sign of genuine industry recovery.

That is, as long as honest answers are given and decisive action follows.

- Susan Archer


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