New Zealand’s syndication powerhouse Te Akau Racing landed their third consecutive victory in the iconic Gr.1 Sistema Railway (1200m) on New Year’s Day, but this one was a little different.
While the tangerine army had won the sprint feature at Ellerslie in each of the last two seasons with Avantage and Entriviere, the 2023 edition of the race was relocated to Te Rapa while the Auckland track is closed for a major redevelopment – marking the first time in the Railway’s 132-year history that it was staged anywhere other than Ellerslie.
Te Akau Racing has a special connection to Te Rapa, with both David Ellis and Karyn Fenton-Ellis having served as chair of Waikato Racing Club. But an extra-special twist to Sunday’s result comes through John Elstob, who owns a 25 percent share in Imperatriz and is the Waikato Racing Club’s current chairman.
“I’m holding back a few tears,” Elstob admitted. “The Railway is the race I’ve always wanted to win, and to do it on my home track is an absolute dream come true. This was probably going to be my only chance, so it’s incredible. We’re so lucky to be able to hold this iconic race at Te Rapa, and the New Year’s Day meeting is one of the best on the New Zealand calendar, so this couldn’t be any better.”
Having the Railway at Te Rapa was also a major advantage for Imperatriz, who had won stakes races in all of her three previous starts at the Hamilton track – the Gr.3 Cambridge Breeders’ Stakes (1200m) as a spring three-year-old, followed by the Gr.1 New Zealand Thoroughbred Breeders’ Stakes (1600m) in the autumn and this season’s Gr.2 Foxbridge Plate (1200m).
The high-class daughter of I Am Invincible had her colours lowered in both the Gr.1 Tarzino Trophy (1400m) and the Gr.1 Arrowfield Stud Plate (1600m), prompting trainer Mark Walker to send her for a spell and bring her back for a fresh-up tilt at the Railway. After a second placing in a Matamata trial on December 23, Walker’s plan came to fruition on Sunday with a brilliant performance.
“I think having her back on top of the ground today was key, and I’m very proud to see the mare come back like this,” Walker said. “We’ve got a great team around us at Te Akau, including three or four who could be great trainers in their own right – and, in time, they will be. It’s all come together today, and it’s a very satisfying result.
“The other big part of it is Opie Bosson. There’s no jockey quite like him in New Zealand when it comes to big races, and he’s done it again today.”
Bosson took up a perfect position in sixth, one off the rail, patiently biding his time as Babylon Berlin slid forward from second and opened up what looked like a winning break at the top of the home straight.
Bosson brought Imperatriz out into the clear and pushed the button, and the four-year-old went into overdrive.
Babylon Berlin was showing no sign of stopping out in front, but Imperatriz wore her down through the final 100 metres and snatched victory right on the line by a head. Top-class sprinter Levante was doing her best work late, running on into third and crossing the line two lengths behind the first pair. Imperatriz stopped the clock at a slick 1:08.90 – the second-fastest Railway in the last decade.
“I thought she might not have been quite 100 percent in her trial, but she was very good today,” Bosson said. “The race worked out perfectly. I was able to find a good spot, and she was absolutely cruising when we turned in. She did it really well in the end.”
Bred by Raffles Dancers NZ Ltd, Imperatriz was bought by David Ellis for A$360,000 on the Gold Coast as a yearling in 2020. She has now had 15 starts for 10 wins, two placings and $783,700 in stakes.
“This result is quite incredible,” Ellis said. “To win a Group One on the track that John Elstob is president of, with a horse that he has a 25 per cent share in – it doesn’t get any better than that. John is an absolutely fantastic person, and he and his partner Denise own a number of horses with us.”