Roger James had plenty of time to reflect on a truly magical 48-hour period as he made the long trip home to his Cambridge base from Palmerston North on Sunday morning.
James and training partner Robert Wellwood were the stars of the show at Te Rapa on Saturday, producing a perfect set of stakes victories as Concert Hall took out the Gr.2 Cal Isuzu Stakes (1600m), before Cheaperthandivorce scored in the Gr.3 Waikato Cup (2400m) and finally rounding out the treble with Two Illicit in the Gr.1 Captain Cook Stakes (1600m).
Just 24 hours earlier the pair had produced Violetta and Apostrophe for victories at the Tauranga meeting to make it five wins over the two days along with three runner-up finishes including Achieve in the Gr.3 Eulogy Stakes (1600m) at Awapuni.
With Wellwood holding down the fort at Te Rapa, James was watching on from Awapuni and took great delight in how the team performed on the big stage in Hamilton, vindicating the thoughts he had expressed to Wellwood on Wednesday morning.
“I said to Robert earlier in the week that if we get the right draws and track conditions then I think we could win five or six races over the two days,” James said.
“I’ve been around long enough to know that was probably wishful thinking and though you want it to happen, it doesn’t always work out that way.
“As it turned out we were blessed with some good fortune and some very well-judged rides and it all fell into place.
“I am just thrilled for everyone concerned as it is a big team effort and you don’t always get what you wish for, but this time we did.”
James admits he did field several enquiries as to why he was at Awapuni with the two stable runners engaged in the Eulogy Stakes as opposed to the Group One day at Te Rapa.
“I thought it was a fairly simple equation really as the horses we had in at Te Rapa are all very experienced, while the two fillies at Awapuni are still very new to the game and I wanted to see how they would react to their first big trip away,” he said.
“It gave me a perfect opportunity to learn a little more about them as I think they both have a good future ahead of them.
“I also have complete faith and confidence in Robert and knew the horses there were in a set of very capable hands.
“I’ve had plenty of my own days in the sun over the years and I wanted Robert to have the opportunity to experience that feeling as well.”
James acknowledges the decision to bring Wellwood into a training partnership back in 2018 has reinvigorated his own passion for the racing game and is thoroughly enjoying the relationship they have developed.
“Robert has been with me in partnership now going on four years and we are really hitting our straps,” he said.
“I have had four previous training partners who have all gone on to do well in their own right and Robert came along at just the right time for me to put another partnership together.
“He has a top background in the equestrian field, is young and enthusiastic and that motivates me, in what is probably the twilight of my career.
“That’s not to say I’m thinking of stepping back at all as I’m 100 percent committed, but it is nice to have someone to share the load with.
“Robert also recently commenced buying into the business, so whatever is mine in terms of clients and infrastructure will eventually be his and that will be good for both of us.”
James was also delighted to share the spoils of victory on Saturday with two long-standing clients in Joan Egan, who bred and races Concert Hall as well as the Taylor family, who bred and race both Cheaperthandivorce and Two Illicit.
“I was really chuffed that Concert Hall produced the effort she did as her whole campaign has been geared to defending her crown in the Zabeel Classic (Gr.1, 2000m) on Boxing day,” he said.
“We earmarked this race as the best lead-up to the Zabeel and she showed she was spot on, despite not having run for five weeks.
“I am thrilled for Joan, who I have trained for over a long period, as she has kept this mare going when she could have gone to stud, so it would be nice to think we might have another Group One for her on Boxing day.”
James’ relationship with the Taylor family of Trelawney Stud dates back to the 1990’s, but really came into focus at the 2002 New Zealand Bloodstock National Yearling sale at Karaka when he recommended to Brent Taylor, he should purchase a handsome Zabeel filly out of the Cambridge Stud draft that year
“I had had a few horses for Brent and Cherry (Taylor) before that sale in 2002, but Brent had said to me that year to recommend four or five fillies that I liked,” James said.
“I gave him the list and said I thought the pick of them was the Zabeel ex Eastern Princess filly from Cambridge stud.
“He backed me, so I went on to buy her for $160,000 and they named her Sayyida.
“She was a fabulous filly and the night before she ran in the Avondale Guineas (Gr.2, 2000m) I told someone I thought she was the female equivalent of Zonda, who is one of the best I have ever trained.
“Fate decided she would get injured in the race and she never made it back to the track, however she has gone on to build a dynasty in the breeding barn.
“Trelawney are just wonderful breeders and some of the most enthusiastic owners you can ever have.
“They love their racing and that passion is infectious, so to be able to provide them with a Group One title with Two Illicit was very special and I’m sure there is plenty more in store for both her and Cheaperthandivorce.”
James and Wellwood will now turn their attention to the Ellerslie Christmas Carnival with James having a simple wish for the busy holiday racing period.
“Quite simply I would like some more of the same please,” he joked.
“That’s being a little bit cheeky, but we have a very strong team at the moment that is firing on all cylinders, so long may the success we had on Saturday continue.”