Roger James and Robert Wellwood unearthed a pair of exciting three-year-old talents in maiden races at Tauranga on Saturday.
The Cambridge trainers had some uncertainty about rain-affected ground in the lead-up to the meeting, but on a track that improved from Heavy8 to Soft7, the promise of December and Zabmanzor shone through.
December was the first to get on the board, backing up his two stylish trial wins with an outstanding raceday debut in the Bayleys Mount Maunganui Maiden (1400m).
Ridden by Sam Weatherley, December took a misstep leaving the starting gates and ended up settling in sixth instead of his intended front-running position. But that made no difference to the end result, with December dashing through a narrow gap along the rail in the straight. He burst to the lead with just under 200m remaining and opened up an impressive winning margin of two and three-quarter lengths.
“We thought he might have led, but he just tripped coming out of the barriers,” Wellwood said. “In hindsight, that probably turned out to be a good thing. It gave him a bit of education, racing in between horses, and he was able to finish it off really well in the straight in a very good debut performance.”
The Shamexpress gelding is a half-brother to the Group One performer Chambord and was a $280,000 purchase from the 2022 New Zealand Bloodstock Ready to Run Sale at Karaka.
“He’s raced by Falcon Racing, who are major owners in Singapore,” Wellwood said. “He was bought for the purpose of going to Singapore, but as we all know, racing is unfortunately not going to be carrying on there. We’re the ones who are benefitting from that at this stage, and he looks like a very nice horse going forward.
“We don’t have any fixed plans in mind for him at the moment. We’ll probably give him another run in a couple of weeks’ time, and then we might start looking at some bigger targets from there.”
Less than two hours later, Zabmanzor followed his stablemate’s example with an equally powerful performance in the Super Liquor Greerton Maiden (1400m).
A strong-finishing fifth in both of his two previous appearances, the Almanzor colt raised his game in style on Saturday. He launched an irresistible finish from second-last to win with ease. Under hands-and-heels riding from Masa Hashizume, who then eased him down in the final few strides, Zabmanzor scored by three and a quarter lengths.
“That was a very impressive performance,” Wellwood said. “He made his debut earlier in the spring after only one trial, so he’s been learning as he’s going. We’ve really liked him for quite a long time, and we’ve always thought that a performance like that might be coming at some point.”
Zabmanzor is still nominated for next Saturday’s Gr.1 Al Basti Equiworld New Zealand 2000 Guineas (1600m) at Riccarton, for which the TAB rates him a $26 chance.
“We’re keeping that open for now,” Wellwood said. “He’s trotted up nicely and has eaten everything up since yesterday’s race, so the signs are good with him so far.
“I wouldn’t say it’s a definite no to the Guineas, but everything will have to go right and we’ll only commit to it if we’re completely happy with him. We’ll make a final call on that over the next few days.”