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Craig Grylls attempting to extend family’s Auckland Cup record
Craig Grylls will match his father in more ways than one if he wins the $500,000 Barfoot & Thompson Auckland Cup on Lincoln King.
Tim Barton for LOVERACING.NZ | March 11, 2022
Craig Grylls and Lincoln King following this year's Wellington Cup. Image: Race Images

Craig Grylls will match his father in more ways than one if he wins the $500,000 Barfoot & Thompson Auckland Cup on Lincoln King at Ellerslie on Sunday.

The Matamata jockey would become a third generation Auckland Cup winning jockey, following on from grandfather John Grylls and father Gary.

Craig would also join his father among a small group of jockeys to have won the Auckland, Wellington and New Zealand Cups – the three major 3200m races in New Zealand.

Though none of those races has retained Group I status – after the Auckland Cup was relegated to Group II this season – they remain high profile contests and are usually in the top five turnover races each season.

Few riders in the modern era have notched the Cups treble and Leith Innes and Chris Johnson are the only current New Zealand-based jockeys to have won all three races.

Michael Walker, now based in Melbourne, won all three before heading to Australia, and Noel Harris and Grant Cooksley are other comparatively recent riders who completed the treble.

Gary Grylls, who retired from riding in 2006, recorded his wins on Kerry Lane (1986 Auckland Cup), Soldier Blue (2001 New Zealand Cup) and Oarsman (2003 Wellington Cup).

Craig won this year’s Wellington Cup on Lincoln King and the 2020 NZ Cup on Dragon Storm and also won the 2014 Wellington Cup, on Graphic, in a period when the race was run at 2400m.

However, his best result from 11 Auckland Cup mounts has been a third on More Than Sacred in 2014, which is the only time he has finished in the top six.

That suggests he is due for a change of fortune, and it would be out of character if Lincoln King raced poorly in a stamina test. “We know he will get the distance and he went a cracking race in the Nathans [when second last weekend],” Grylls said.

Lincoln King, who is third favourite for the Auckland Cup, has also finished second and fourth from two tilts at the NZ Cup. His only unplaced run at 3200m came in last year’s Auckland Cup, when he was shuffled back at a vital stage and at the tail of the field on the turn.

An Auckland Cup victory would be high on the wish list for most jockeys and the family connection would add to the occasion for Grylls. “It’s just a pity it’s no longer a Group I race.”

John Grylls, who won more than 700 races, notched the biggest win of his career when successful on Kia Maia in the 1975 Auckland Cup.

In any event, the family has already achieved a Group I treble, with John, Gary and Craig all winning the Easter Handicap at Ellerslie. Craig was still an apprentice when he won the 2008 Easter on Pasta Post, with Gary successful on Cosmetique in 1986 and John winning the 1972 Easter on Kia Marea, a half-sister to Kia Maia. Kia Marea and Kia Maia were trained at Hawera by Tom Mathieson.

Craig Grylls, who turned 32 this week, had to miss Derby Day at Ellerslie through suspension but is having a vintage season. He is in second place on the premiership, five wins behind pacesetter Michael McNab, and has won eight Group races this term.

He partnered Conventina Bay to win the Group I Herbie Dyke Stakes last month and will seek another Group I on the mare in the Bonecrusher Stakes at Ellerslie on Sunday.

Craig’s sister, Bridget, is also riding at Ellerslie this weekend but does not have an Auckland Cup mount.

Craig Grylls Gr.2 Barfoot & Thompson Auckland Cup Auckland Cup Week Auckland Thoroughbred Racing