40 Group 1 races provide a beautiful (NZ) symphony

11 min read
New Zealanders have overachieved in the Sydney Autumn Classics over the past 10 years and Orchestral (NZ) (Savabeel {NZ}) is expected to add to the tally in Saturday’s G1 Vinery Stud S., where she likely starts at a shorter quote than any of her contemporaries over the past decade.

Cover image courtesy of Kenton Wright (Race Images)

Ten years, 40 Group 1 races, 30 per cent of wins and less than 16 per cent of total runners.

That’s the scorecard for New Zealand 3-year-olds that head across the Tasman to contest the four autumn Group 1 races for the Classic generation at 2000 metres and 2400 metres in Sydney since 2014.

In those last 10 years, horses coming off New Zealand form (having raced there within their past three starts) have won four ATC Oaks, four ATC Derbys, two Vinery Stud S. and two Rosehill Guineas.

Obviously given the expense of travelling, trainers only send the ones they expect to measure up, so they are entitled to strike at far better than the average, but given their representation is only a fraction of the locals, it’s a neat little record.

Glamour filly Orchestral (NZ) (Savabeel {NZ}) is the talk of the town as she tries to extend her winning streak to five in the $750,000 G1 Vinery Stud S. at Rosehill on Saturday.

She’s out to give Roger James and Robert Wellwood back-to-back Vinery wins after Prowess (NZ) (Proisir) won as a $2.15 favourite last year.

James previously won this race with Sixty Seconds (NZ (Centaine)) in 2002.

How good is Orchestral?

Interestingly, despite the big market push this week, ratings analysts haven’t forecast Orchestral too far beyond the local benchmark in the Vinery.

Timeform have her sitting on 113, which is only marginally above the G1 VRC Oaks and last start G2 Phar Lap S. winner Zardozi (Kingman {GB}).

Similarly, Daniel O’Sullivan’s weight-for-age Performance Ratings have Orchestral and Zardozi level pegging based on their peak performances to date.

“Her 101.5 in the New Zealand Derby was the same as Zardozi’s VRC Oaks mark,” O’Sullivan said.

“What I will say about Orchestral is that she is on a continuous upward trajectory.

“She’s gone 93, 98, 100, 101.5 – while ever a horse is continuing to improve its peak it’s very hard to put a ceiling on where they might end up.

“She’s (Orchestral) gone 93, 98, 100, 101.5 – while ever a horse is continuing to improve its peak it’s very hard to put a ceiling on where they might end up.” - Daniel O’Sullivan

“It’s only after they level out, or regress slightly, that you get a real feel of where their level is.”

O’Sullivan said he believed the gap between Orchestral and Zardozi in current markets was “too big” but said the New Zealand filly was entitled to be favourite because she’s still improving.

“What her Derby win did show, is that she’s a proper stayer and definitely has stamina. She’s not one of these Derby winners that has won it on class alone. The tough nature of that race says she’s a genuine stayer.”

The tough nature of that race (New Zealand Derby) says she’s (Orchestral) a genuine stayer.” - Daniel O’Sullivan

Orchestral’s path to the Vinery this weekend has been a deliberate one.

Roger James told The Thoroughbred Report prior to the New Zealand Derby the filly had “the constitution of a lion” and was far more mature at the same stage as another of his Derby winners Silent Achiever (NZ) (O'Reilly {NZ}), who was beaten in Sydney in the autumn of her 3-year-old year.

Roger James and Robert Wellwood | Image courtesy of Peter Rubery (Race Images)

James mapped out the Sydney program some time ago and felt the New Zealand Derby was the ideal lead-up.

“I don’t put them to the (NZ) Derby because I’m being arrogant and cocky and think they’re too good for the fillies, it’s more that it opens more doors in Sydney,” he said at the time.

“If you go to the New Zealand Oaks, it’s three weeks later, so you have to put another run into their preparation, you have a 20-hour round trip to Wellington and then you miss the Vinery.

“Whereas if you go to the Derby, it’s right here two hours away and you haven’t put the extra run into them and you have a month to the Vinery and then the Oaks. It’s more a matter of convenience than anything.”

“... if you go to the Derby, it’s right here two hours away and you haven’t put the extra run into them and you have a month to the Vinery and then the Oaks. It’s more a matter of convenience than anything.” - Roger James

Conveniently, Orchestral won the Derby in a romp a few days after James made those comments and she’s been a hot favourite for the Vinery and ATC Oaks ever since.

Saturday’s 2000-metre contest will go a long way to telling us just how good she really is.

“Her presence adds interest and spice,” O’Sullivan said. “This would be an okay race without her, but she’s the one that’s created the headlines.”

Orchestral (NZ) | Image courtesy of Natasha Wood (Race Images)

While Timeform doesn’t give Orchestral a huge advantage over Zardozi, historically her 113 stacks up extremely well versus the other NZ fillies to race in the Sydney autumn.

It’s clearly superior to the respective marks of 111 and 105 that Prowess and Pennyweka (NZ) (Satono Aladdin {Jpn}) brought last year and on a par with the mark Rising Romance (NZ) (Ekraar {USA}) brought in 2014.

Notably, all of those fillies improved on their New Zealand marks when they got to Sydney.

That spells trouble for the locals if history repeats on Saturday.

True to Form

Australian punters tend to love the Kiwi 3-year-olds and very rarely let them get under their guard.

Indeed of the 12 winners, Tavago (NZ) (Tavistock {NZ}) was the only one to start at double figures, saluting at $31 in the 2016 ATC Derby, shortly before Trent Busuttin made the decision to move to Australia permanently with his partner Natalie Young.

Tavago is the outlier though – and his odds were inflated owing to the Victoria Derby winner Tarzino (NZ) (Tavistock {NZ}) being sent out at prohibitive odds that year.

Tavago (NZ), winner of the G1 ATC Derby in 2016 | Image courtesy of Sportpix

In the past decade, the NZ runners have been represented by 27 horses that started top four in the betting market and 10 of those won. Backing every one of those has returned punters a very healthy profit.

No wonder they love it when a Kiwi comes over!

Prowess and ATC Oaks winner Pennyweka both started favourite in their respective wins last year, as did Bonneval (NZ) (Makfi {GB}) in the 2017 ATC Oaks.

Oaks winners Rising Romance and Sofia Rosa (NZ) (Makfi {GB}) were both second elects, as was popular Rosehill Guineas winner Gingernuts (NZ) (Iffraaj {GB}).

Jon Snow (NZ) (Iffraaj {GB}) was on the third line of betting, while punters had to go to the fourth line to find Volkstok’n’barrell (NZ) (Tavistock {NZ}), Mongolian Khan (Holy Roman Emperor {Ire}) and Quick Thinker (So You Think {NZ}).

Odd one out

Lucia Valentina (NZ) (Savabeel) was prepared by Kris Lees to win the 2014 G1 Vinery Stud S.

It was her third start in Australia for Lees, having transferred from Stephen Marsh’s stable after running second to Rising Romance in the G2 Royal S. (2000m) at Ellerslie on New Year’s Day.

It proved to be a great form reference for Sydney, with Lucia Valentina taking the Vinery before the Donna Logan-trained Rising Romance beat her and others to claim the ATC Oaks two weeks later.

Lucia Valentina (NZ) winning the G1 Vinery Stud S. in 2014 | Image courtesy of Sportpix

So even though she was not New Zealand-trained at the time of her Vinery success, Lucia Valentina is included in the list owing to the fact she started in New Zealand within three starts of the Vinery win.

Conversely, the 2019 Vinery and Oaks winner Verry Elleegant (NZ) (Zed {NZ}) is not included because she had been in Australia since the previous spring.

Boys hold their own

For a long time through the first part of this century there was a perception the New Zealand fillies were far superior to their male counterparts.

The explanation being that New Zealand had become a trade country, with dwindling prizemoney forcing owners and trainers to sell the good boys early in order to turn a dollar.

No doubt the colts and gelding ranks in New Zealand are depleted by those market forces, but even with that being the case, there has still been enough retained to be a big force during the Sydney autumn.

Volkstok’n’barrell (NZ), winner of the G1 Rosehill Guineas in 2015 | Image courtesy of Sportpix

Between 2015 and 2020, the New Zealand boys had a stellar run in the Sydney autumn classics.

In 2015, they claimed the double with two different horses.

Donna Logan-prepared Volkstok’n’barrell to win the Rosehill Guineas, before Murray Baker’s Mongolian Khan turned the tables in the ATC Derby.

Mongolian Khan, winner of the G1 Australian Derby in 2015 | Image courtesy of Sportpix

The next year Tavago flew the flag for the Kiwis, then in 2017, the NZers claimed the double again.

Australians were treated to a blitz by Te Akau Racing’s Gingernuts in the Rosehill Guineas for training partners Stephen Autridge and Jamie Richards, before Murray Baker and Andrew Forsman were there to claim another Derby with Jon Snow.

Baker and Forsman were at it again three years later, when the relatively unheralded Quick Thinker landed an upset of sorts (he was $8) in the ATC Derby.

The now retired Baker’s Derby record is something to behold. He had previously won the Derby with Nom Du Jeu (NZ) (Montjeu {Ire}) in 2008 and combined with Forsman to send (It’s A) Dundeel (NZ) out a runaway winner in 2013.

Bargain buys

One category where Orchestral doesn’t fit the mould of her predecessors is her sale price-tag.

At NZ$625,000, which James and Wellwood paid out of the Haunui Stud draft at the 2022 New Zealand Bloodstock Karaka Yearling Sale, it puts her well beyond the price of any other recent New Zealand autumn classic winners.

All bar Pennyweka and Rising Romance were put through a sale ring. Of those remaining 10, eight of them could have been purchased for NZ$100,000 or less.

Gingernuts, from the New Zealand Ready to Run Sale, was the cheapest of the dozen, with Te Akau having to pay just NZ$42,500 for him.

Lucia Valentina (NZ$60,000), Volkstok’n’barrell (NZ$50,000), Tavago (NZ$60,000), Sofia Rosa (NZ$65,000) and Jon Snow (NZ$65,000) were in a similar price range, while Quick Thinker was plucked out of the Inglis Australian Easter Yearling Sale for just $100,000.

Mongolian Khan (NZ$220,000 Ready to Run) and Prowess (NZ$230,000) were the most expensive buys.

A Classic decade: NZ’s 10-year Sydney autumn 3-year-old blitz

2014 Vinery - Lucia Valentina (NZ) – Savabeel x Staryn Glenn (NZ) (Montjeu {Ire})

NZB Premier Yearling Sale, NZ$60,000, Blandford Lodge/Bruce Perry Bloodstock, prizemoney $4.35 million

2014 ATC Oaks - Rising Romance (NZ) – Ekraar (USA) x Post Romance (NZ) (Postponed {USA})

Not sold, prizemoney $2.25 million

2015 Rosehill Guineas - Volkstok’n’barrell (NZ) – Tavistock (NZ) x Volkster (NZ) (Volksraad {GB})

NZB Select Yearling Sale, NZ$50,000, Seaton Park Ltd/Donna Logan Racing Stables, prizemoney $1.4 million

2015 ATC Derby - Mongolian Khan (NZ) – Holy Roman Emperor (Ire) x Centafit (NZ) (Centaine)

NZB Ready to Run Sale NZ$220,000, Regal Farm/China Inner Mongolia Rider Horse Group, prizemoney $3.96 million

2016 ATC Derby - Tavago (NZ) – Tavistock (NZ) x Sara Ann (NZ) (Stravinsky {USA})

NZB Select Yearling Sale, NZ$60,000, Cambridge Stud/C Oldfield, prizemoney $1.65 million

2016 ATC Oaks - Sofia Rosa (NZ) – Makfi (GB) x Bislieri (Encosta De Lago)

NZB Select Yearling Sale NZ$65,000, Westbury Stud/Bruce Perry Bloodstock, prizemoney $950,000

2017 Rosehill Guineas - Gingernuts (NZ) – Iffraaj (GB) x Double Elle (NZ) Generous (Ire)

NZB Ready To Run Sale, NZ$42,500, Stainley Park/Te Akau Racing, prizemoney $1.22 million

2017 ATC Oaks - Bonneval (NZ) – Makfi (GB) x Imposingly (Zabeel (NZ)

NZB Premier Yearling Sale NZ$150,000, Westbury Stud/Baker Racing, prizemoney $1.61 million

2017 ATC Derby - Jon Snow (NZ) – Iffraaj (GB) x Orinda (NZ) (O’Reilly{NZ})

NZB Select Yearling Sale, NZ$65,000, Haunui Farm/A Forsman, prizemoney $1.99 million

2020 ATC Derby - Quick Thinker – So You Think (NZ) x Acouplamas (Al Maher)

Inglis Australian Easter Yearling Sale, $100,000 Coolmore Stud/De Burgh Equine Ltd, prizemoney $1.26 million

2023 Vinery - Prowess (NZ) – Proisir x Donna Marie (NZ) (Don Eduardo {NZ})

NZB Premier Yearling Sale, NZ$230,000, Hallmark Stud/R James, R Wellwood, prizemoney $1.5 million

2023 ATC Oaks - Pennyweka (NZ) – Satono Aladdin (Jpn) x Threepence (NZ) (Pentire {GB})

NZB Premier Yearling Sale – withdrawn, prizemoney $1 million

Potential 2024 Vinery - Orchestral (NZ) - Savabeel x Symphonic (NZ) (O’Reilly {NZ})

NZB Premier Yearling Sale, NZ$625,000 Haunui Farm/R James, R Wellwood, $1.46 million

*Mongolian Khan also sold:

Inglis Great Southern Weanling Sale, Grenville Stud/B Williams, $9000

NZB National Yearling Sale, Ainsley Downs/Waikato Bloodstock $140,000

*Gingernuts also sold:

NZB National Weanling Sale $5000, Goodwood Park/Phill Cataldo Bloodstock

*Quick Thinker also sold:

Magic Millions National Weanling Sale, $180,000, Holbrook Thoroughbreds/James Bester Bloodstock

New Zealand-bred
Vinery Stud S.