Matamata horseman Mark Lupton has been associated with a few good horses in his time, some of them even Group One performers, but nothing compares to winning the Gr.1 Sydney Cup (3200m) with Etah James (Raise The Flag [GB]-Etah).
“I am trying to come to grips with it all, it’s amazing really,” Lupton said a couple of days after the win. “Now that I have watched the replay so many times it is beginning to feel real. You wish for all these things and now I am really starting to believe that it happened.
Lupton was full of praise for jockey Glen Boss whose superb ride saw Etah James hold off fellow New Zealand-bred galloper The Chosen One (Savabeel [AUS]- The Glitzy One) who was a game runner-up.
“It’s very exciting to win a Group One race, especially with one you have bred and raised,” he said. “What a difference a world class jockey makes, Glen Boss rode her beautifully.”
Lupton, who races the mare with his wife Cath and fellow breeders Terry Reid and Garry Howes, said Etah James would continue to race even though she is eight, an age when many would have been retired to the broodmare paddock.
“With her there is always something new to chase,” Lupton explained. “Twice she has been going to the broodmare paddock, and instead now she is aiming for the Melbourne Cup, as an eight-year-old mare.”
“She didn’t start racing until she was nearly five, and with the state of things at the moment we are better off having a crack at the Melbourne Cup than breeding from her. Especially now she has won a Group One race, it changes things.”
The win in the Sydney Cup was the eighth for Etah James and her third at black-type level. The history books will record that the mare was trained by Ciaron Maher and David Eustace, where she was cared for in their Sydney stable by Annabel Neasham.
She began her career with Matt Cumani at Ballarat. At her only tenth start, when she had already racked up five wins, she came out and won the Gr.3 Lord Reims Stakes (2600m) confirming her staying ability.
After a lacklustre Spring she returned to Matamata for a spell, and Lupton trained the mare to run a solid second in the Cornwall Handicap (2200m) before sending her back to Cumani for another campaign last winter.
As a seven-year-old she won the Listed Pakenham Cup last December and returned to New Zealand again in early January and into the care of the Luptons.
“I feel sorry for Matt he sent her home,” Lupton said. “She had sarcoids on her eye and muzzle and we wanted to get those cured and get her right.
“We treated her with herbs, and we decided to run her in the Auckland Cup before her impending retirement.”
Under Lupton’s care she had a barrier trial over 1200m in early February before turning out at Ellerslie to come with a big finish to run third in the Gr.2 Avondale Cup (2400m). Three weeks later she lined up in the Gr.1 Auckland Cup and finished late for fourth.
“The morning after the Auckland Cup she had licked the feed bowl clean and was bouncing around the paddock,” Lupton said.
“I had to work her on the Monday morning she was that well, I couldn’t leave her in the paddock, so I left her with Karen (Fursdon) ticking over until she went to Sydney.
“As it became obvious with the Covid-19 restrictions that I couldn’t send her to Ballarat to then race in Sydney, and I couldn’t even go myself, I made the decision to send her to Ciaron, who has also trained for us.
“When she got there Annabel reported that she just went to another level, and her work before the Sydney Cup was outstanding.”
The Etah James story is steeped in a long history of friendship.
Lupton and his partners have been friends for years. Terry Reid, a lawyer in Sydney, used to flat with Cath Lupton some 30 odd years ago and Geoff Howes, now a London based lawyer, was a mate of Reid’s at Law School. All were mad keen on racing and Gerry a bit of a fanatic on breeding.
Lupton was born into racing in the Taranaki where the family name has been synonymous with horses since time began. His uncle Snow raced the immortal Kiwi, the revered jumps jockey Isaac is a second cousin, and Jamie-Lee who trained this year’s Gr.2 Wellington Cup winner Soleseifei his cousin’s daughter. He has always been a farmer and breeding and racing horses has always been a passion.
Around 16 years ago Lupton ran into John Sargent by chance in Cambridge and mentioned he and a couple of mates would be keen to lease a filly to race, and five days later Sargent obliged.
“He came back to me and said Jim Barlow had a nice Danasinga (AUS) filly we could lease” recalled Lupton.
“That was Tickle (ex Amanpour by Khozaam[USA]- ex Sensuality[AUS]), she won her first start and we exercised our right of purchase. In all she won eight races including the Gr.3 Rotorua Challenge Plate and the Gr.3 Lord Mayors Cup, but on that trip to Brisbane she broke down in the Doomben Cup and couldn’t be saved.
“We wanted to get another one out of the family and fortunately for us not long after Jim Barlow was downsizing and we bought Etah in foal to Alamosa, for $10,000 and we also bought her weanling foal by Savabeel we called her Amuse and raced her to win two races.
“Sniper was the result of the Alamosa mating and he won his first two starts for us before being transferred to Bjorn Baker, but he wasn’t sound and didn’t fire over there.
“We decided we wanted to breed a nice stayer and Garry was pretty keen on Raise The Flag ((GB)(Sadler’s Wells[USA]- Hansilli[IRE]), he is a beautifully bred stallion. When the resulting filly arrived, we decided we would be patient with her and wait and send her to Australia to race. It was also Garry who named her Etah James after the famous American gospel singer.
“I gave her four trials and told the boys she is not going until she is ready. We chose Matt Cumani as he had the pedigree to be able to train stayers, being the son of Luca Cumani, and he was a nice young bloke starting out in Australia that we really liked.”
The partnership has continued to breed from the mare, and she has left another winner in Redeemer by He’s Remarkable, who is now a five-year-old. She missed the following year, and her next foal is a three-year-old colt by Reliable Man (GB) named Jesse James, who will probably go straight to Australia to race. She also has a two-year-colt by Alamosa at the Lupton’s farm.
“We have just weaned a full brother to Etah James,” Lupton said with pride. “He is at over at Cambridge Blue Agistment, and now Etah is in foal to US Navy Flag(USA), to inject a bit of speed into the family. He’s a lovely stallion not too big, and a foal from a first season sire will be a great prospect to sell – if it’s a colt, we will keep it if it’s a filly. If we get a nice foal, it’s something to look forward too.
“In the meantime, we will look forward to the spring it’s not really that far away. We never expected to still be racing her at eight years, but she can stay, she can handle any track conditions, she is sound, so there is not much point looking at stallions right now.
“She is in the paddock at the moment, but Ciaron said she won’t be there for long, we will aim for the Melbourne Cup and work her programme back from there.” -Michelle Saba, NZTBA