Having shown a glimpse of real promise in his first preparation, a bigger and better Cognito announced his arrival among New Zealand’s three-year-old ranks in Saturday’s Gr.2 Life Direct Wellington Guineas (1400m) at Trentham – aided by an extraordinary ride from Opie Bosson.
The son of So You Think began his career in the spring, winning on debut at Taupo before a narrow defeat to star three-year-old Sharp ’N’ Smart at Ruakaka. He spent the rest of his spring at Riccarton, making three starts for a win in the Guineas Trial (1400m), a second in the Gr.3 War Decree Stakes (1600m) and a sixth in the Gr.1 New Zealand 2000 Guineas (1600m).
Scratched from an intended resuming run at Taupo on December 30, Cognito instead took a fresh-up tilt at Saturday’s Wellington Guineas, and he rose to the occasion with the performance of his career so far.
Sent out as a $3.40 favourite following Friday’s scratching of pre-post favourite Sharp ’N’ Smart due to a stone bruise, Cognito’s prospects appeared to be getting bleaker with every stride coming down the side of the track. Turning for home, he was way back in third-last and had a wall of horses in front of him.
But Bosson was able to duck, weave and somehow find a way through, and Cognito took care of the rest with a scintillating late burst.
Just as Duncan Creek ranged up out wide on the track and briefly looked set for an upset victory, Cognito dived through three off the rail and edged him out by a neck.
“I actually got a beautiful run from the gate along the fence, and I was cruising along, but from about the 600 I was really sweating on the gaps opening up,” Bosson admitted. “Luckily for us, they seemed to open up at the right time.
“He’s a very good horse. I haven’t had a lot to do with him before, but I’ve been riding him in a few gallops of late, and he’s really given me a nice feel. He’s still learning, but he’s a very, very good horse.”
Cognito became the second Wellington Guineas winner in the last three years for Te Akau Racing, who also won the race in 2021 with Need I Say More.
Bought by David Ellis for A$165,000 on the Gold Coast as a yearling, Cognito has now had six starts for three wins and two second placings, with the promise of much more still to come.
Trainer Mark Walker has nominated him for two Group One features in March – the Gr.1 New Zealand Derby (2400m) at Te Rapa on March 4, along with the Gr.1 Levin Classic (1600m) back at Trentham two weeks later.
“Opie’s shown us many times that he can work miracles, and that was another great ride,” Walker said. “Full credit to the horse as well.
“We had a little bit of a hiccup that prevented us from running at Taupo first-up, but the owners were very patient and were happy to wait for today. It might have ended up being a blessing in disguise that we brought him here fresh.
“He’s really furnished since the spring, and a big advantage of taking three-year-olds down to Christchurch at that time of the year is that they really grow up mentally with that trip.”
Cognito provided Walker and the Te Akau Racing team with back-to-back stakes victories after last year’s Gr.1 New Zealand Oaks (2400m) winner Belle En Rouge returned to her happy hunting ground at Trentham to take out the Gr.3 Dixon & Dunlop Anniversary Handicap (1600m).
The four-year-old mare had been steadily winding into the form that saw her one of the standout performers of her three-year-old season, with a storming late finish to finish runner-up to stablemate Campionessa at Group Two level putting the writing on the wall that she was ready to strike.
Partnered by visiting Australian rider Dean Yendall, the Te Akau Racing home-bred daughter of Burgundy settled beautifully against the rail beyond midfield before angling into the middle of the track to commence the run home.
Yendall unleashed her at the 200m and she quickly stormed to the lead before easing clear to win by a length and a half from stablemate Belle Of The Ball, who stormed home out wide to snatch the runner-up position from outsider Conor O’Ceirin.
Walker was pleased to see his charge back in the winner’s circle after a disappointing spring campaign where she was plagued by wet tracks.
“It’s good to see her back as her spring form was due to all the wet tracks she struck,” Walker said.
“Back on good ground she has shown what she is made of.
“She has always been a special filly as she was bred on the farm.”
Walker admitted he had a feeling his charge could get back to winning form and praised the effort by Yendall.
“I thought as long as she could jump out better she was a real chance,” he said.
“It was a great ride by Dean as he rode her for a bit of luck and it just opened up (in the straight) for him.
“The second mare (Belle Of The Ball) also ran well without much luck.
“We’ll take them home now and regroup, but she (Belle En Rouge) is at a decent place in the handicap still, so we will reassess as I think she is competitive anywhere between 1400m-2000m.”
Raced by the Te Akau Beautiful in Red Racing Partnership and bred by Te Akau’s David Ellis and Karyn Fenton-Ellis, Belle En Rouge has now won five of her 18 starts and over $491,000 in stakes.