The progeny of champion sire Savabeel were firing on both sides of the Tasman on Saturday with the Waikato Stud stallion credited with a Group race treble.
First to salute was rejuvenated galloper Brando (ex Saoirse) who demonstrated all his fighting qualities when he outlasted his rivals in a desperate finish to the Gr.2 City Of Palmerston North Awapuni Gold Cup (2000m).
Considered one of the most promising three-year-olds of his season after winning three of his first four starts before finishing runner-up in the Gr.1 Levin Classic (1600m), the now five-year-old mixed his form in his next campaigns.
Given a break over the summer, the Mark Walker-trained runner returned with a win over 1200m at Tauranga in February which started a run of three victories from four starts including the Gr.2 Japan Trophy (1600m) at Tauranga on March 25.
Stepped up to 2000m for the first time in his 25-start career on Saturday, rider Opie Bosson played a patient hand during the contest, shooting through on the inside when rounding the home bend before being hotly challenged by a brave Colorado Star and the late-finishing Kelly Coe for the final 150m, where he held the pair out by a length at the finish.
Te Akau Racing assistant trainer Sam Bergerson was overjoyed with the performance.
“If you had said we were going to be here two weeks ago, I would have laughed at you,” Bergerson said.
“It is a massive training effort by Mark as we never thought he would get a mile let alone 2000m.
“It was super effort by Opie to save ground against the rail and just so tough by the horse.”
Bred by Fairdale Stud, Brando is raced by the Te Akau 2019 RTR Colt Syndicate after being purchased for $500,000 by Te Akau Racing boss David Ellis from the Riversley Park draft during the 2019 New Zealand Bloodstock Ready To Run Sale at Karaka.
He hails from a family that includes Group One winners Headturner, O’Marilyn and Anacheeva.
Later in the day Waikato Stud homebred I Wish I Win (ex Make A Wish) claimed the A$3 million TJ Smith Stakes (1200m) with a stunning triumph at Randwick, underlining his star quality.
Ridden by Luke Nolen, the four-year-old son of Savabeel was slow to leave the starting gate and dropped out to be a clear last for most of the race.
But then Nolen unleashed him down the outside of the Randwick straight, and I Wish I Win roared past a dozen rivals with ease.
Just as Mazu and Giga Kick were moving up alongside and gradually getting the better of a gallant Nature Strip, I Wish I Win streaked past them and scored by half a length.
The stunning win prompted Nolen to compare I Wish I Win to the previous TJ Smith Stakes winner he had ridden for trainer Peter Moody – legendary mare Black Caviar.
“He’s pretty bloody impressive,” Nolen said. “He’s an amazing horse. He didn’t particularly travel well today actually, I was a bit worried. But when we topped the rise, he lengthened stride and gave me a good feel.
“He’s an exceptional horse. He’s got similar traits to the last one (Black Caviar). Very happy to be a part of it.
Moody, who also shares in the ownership was equally impressed.
"That was special," said Moody, who reported that Waikato Stud principal Mark Chittick and his family were watching the race from a deer-hunting trip in a remote area of the South Island. “Third run in, the horse has probably peaked today.
“I lay down at 10.30 this morning, the track was a Good4 and I was a happy man. I got up at 12.45, it was a Heavy8 and I didn’t want to come to the races – he quickens so much better on dry ground.
“Luke used the rest of the field for as long as he could. You could always see him coming. I’m very proud of him, he’s a bloody good horse.”
Overall, I Wish I Win has now had 16 starts for six wins, eight placings and more than A$7.7 million in prize-money. He became the 29th individual Group One winner for Waikato Stud’s champion stallion Savabeel.
I Wish I Win is out of the Pins mare Make A Wish, whose five winners from seven foals to race also include the well-performed Another Dollar. That daughter of Ocean Park won five races including the Gr.3 Premier’s Cup (2200m) and Listed Gosford Gold Cup (2000m), while her seven black-type placings included a second in the Gr.1 Queensland Oaks (2200m).
Make A Wish had two further foals after I Wish I Win. A colt by Ocean Park was born in 2021 and was bought by Moody Racing for $375,000 at Karaka earlier this year, while a filly by Super Seth followed in the spring of 2022.
Rounding out the trio was Major Beel (ex Gram) who outstayed his opposition in the A$2 million Australian Derby (2400m) at Randwick.
New Zealand-breds have a proud record in the Australian Derby, having won it 10 times in the last 20 years, and they were a powerful presence again in 2023 with more than half of the 18-horse field.
However, most attention was centred around the first four placegetters in last month’s Gr.1 New Zealand Derby (2400m) – Sharp ‘N’ Smart, Andalus, Full Of Sincerity and Mark Twain – and few took much notice of Major Beel, who started as a $54 outsider.
But Gai Waterhouse and Adrian Bott had given the Savabeel gelding a meticulous build-up to Sydney’s prestigious autumn classic. After back-to-back wins over 1300m and 1600m in February, he stepped up to 1900m with a fourth placing at Rosehill on March 11, then finished a close second in the Gr.2 Tulloch Stakes (2000m) a week out from his Randwick grand final.
It was all designed around having Major Beel at fever pitch for the Derby, and he held up his end of the bargain.
Rider Tim Clark slid forward to sit outside the front-running Domingo, then threw down the gauntlet and surged to a clear lead at the home turn.
Major Beel opened up a three-length advantage with 300m remaining, and despite determined bids from the strong-finishing Virtuous Circle, Suizuro and Sharp ‘N’ Smart, he could not be caught.
Major Beel landed a boilover victory by three-quarters of a length – a first Australian Derby success for his Hall of Fame co-trainer.
“It’s a massive thrill to win a race like this and give Gai her first,” Clark said. “I’ve been able to win a couple of races to give Gai her first, but there’s not a lot she hasn’t won. It’s nice to tick this box. I’ve got a really good friend involved in the ownership as well, so it’s a great thrill.
“Obviously I wouldn’t be here without the support I get from Gai and Adrian. It’s a bit of payback for them.
“He travelled a bit strong throughout, because he’s come out of two really fast-run races. Obviously, going up in trip to a really steady mile and a half, he just over-travelled a bit throughout, but that was helping him get through the ground.
“I felt them coming but was just mindful of trying to hold on to him and help him as long as I could. He showed a great turn of foot at the top of the straight. The second horse was coming to me late, but he really dug in and fought hard, like last week. Thankfully he was able to get his head in front today.”
Major Beel has now had 11 starts for four wins, five placings and more than A$1.4 million in stakes.
The Derby hero became the 30th individual Group One winner for Savabeel.
Unusually, Major Beel comes from a female family renowned for their feats earlier in their careers and over shorter distances.
He is the first foal of the unraced O’Reilly mare Gram – a daughter of the Gr.2 Karakatta Plate (1200m) winner Gold Rocks, whose daughters Gold Fever and Gold Rush both won the Gr.2 Matamata Breeders’ Stakes (1200m) for two-year-old fillies. Calaverite was successful at Listed level as a juvenile in the Gimcrack Stakes (1000m) and St Albans Stakes (1200m), and she is the dam of Caulfield Guineas (1600m) winner Golden Mile.
Major Beel was purchased out of Waikato Stud’s draft at the Gold Coast Yearling Sale for A$260,000 by Waterhouse, Bott and Kestrel Thoroughbreds, with the Matamata farm remaining in the ownership. -NZ Racing Desk