Te Akau Racing may have been the dominant force in the DoubleTree by Hilton Karaka Million 2YO (1200m) in recent years, but at least one of their rivals knows plenty about winning big races on this day.
The Otaki stable of Johno Benner and Hollie Wynyard, operating on a much smaller scale, have scored million-dollar triumphs twice at this meeting, with Vespa in the Karaka Million 2YO in 2014 and with Scott Base in the 3YO Classic in 2018.
This year they’re back with Dapper, who comes into the race with strong form and decent prospects of stemming the tangerine tide.
“It’s not our first rodeo. We just do what we do,” Benner said.
“We have our ways, and we stick to what we do and don’t worry about what anybody else is doing. You can only control your own horse.
“No doubt the Te Akau team have a strong hand in the race, but we only bought a couple of horses last year and we’ve got one in the race, so we’re pretty happy.”
Dapper has put together a good record in five raceday starts. He won his second race, beating subsequent Listed Welcome Stakes (1000m) winner Sky On Fire, and two starts later was an unlucky third in the Gr.2 Wakefield Challenge Stakes (1200m) behind two of his potential rivals on Saturday, Impendabelle and Believe In Magic, after hitting the rail 400m from the line.
He headed north earlier this month to get some experience at Saturday’s race venue of Pukekohe, reversing the form with Believe In Magic with a solid half-length victory.
“It was a good win. He was strong late, and he’ll improve off that for the grand final, which is what we wanted,” Benner said.
“Now we just need to draw a gate.”
A $150,000 purchase at Karaka last year, Dapper is raced by the notable owner Gary Harding, who among other horses raced the Gr.1 Levin Classic (1600m) winner Bonham with Benner and Wynyard.
“Dapper is a beautiful colt. He is a very well-balanced, strong colt, with a good bit of speed in his pedigree. He stood out a bit for us,” Benner said.
“The Karaka Million was the reason he was bought, and it’s no mean feat just to get them in the race with half a chance. We’ll go out there with an open mind and see what happens.”
Dapper won’t be the only horse Benner and Wynyard take to Pukekohe, as they also saddle their good mare Hold The Press in the Gr.2 Westbury Classic (1400m).
Hold The Press won the Listed Levin Stakes (1200m) two starts back and then won an open 1300m handicap at Pukekohe on January 8, but she faces a tough task with top-class mare Imperatriz also set to start.
“She’s a little marvel. She’s established a beautiful record, and any more black-type we can get with her is obviously very valuable,” Benner said.
“It was a good win the other day, and I don’t think 1400m will be an issue. Imperatriz is going to be there and she’ll be hard to beat, but we’ll have a crack.”
Benner and Wynyard have interest all over the country this week, with horses starting in the lower half of the North Island and the South Island as well as Pukekohe.
Heading south is the maiden mare Esme, who races in a 2200m maiden at Ashburton on Thursday.
“The owner lives down there and we’d like to get a win with her, and we thought this would be a suitable race,” Benner said.
“She’s a lovely little mare, quite well bred (by Pins out of the stakes winner Viana). She’s going well and should take a power of beating in a race like that.”
Two days later, the stable expects to start three horses at Trentham: Pride of Aspen in a Rating 75 1600m event, O’Riordan in a Rating 65 1400m race, and Alpino in a maiden 1000m dash.
“Pride of Aspen really improved off her first-up run, she worked huge this morning, and she’s a very progressive mare, while Alpino went well in a jumpout the other day and should go a good race,” he said.
“O’Riordan had a heart fibrillation the other day but everything seems to be good and she should hopefully bounce back into some form as well.”
The stable also produced two runners at the Foxton trials on Tuesday worth following — Tulsi, a juvenile who was a two-length winner of an 850m catchweight, and Tribbiani, a three-year-old who followed an earlier trial victory by finishing second in a 1200m maiden catchweight to the Allan Sharrock-trained Tavistock colt Henry Robin.