Graham Richardson savoured one of the highlights of his career as Defibrillate brought a long-range plan to fruition in the Gr.1 Cambridge Stud Zabeel Classic (2050m) at Pukekohe on Boxing Day – a second consecutive triumph in the weight-for-age feature for Richardson and his training partner Rogan Norvall.
The Matamata pair captured last year’s Zabeel Classic with the perennially under-rated $15 outsider Tiptronic, who won eight races and more than $800,000 in a 52-start career that ended with his retirement earlier this month.
But Richardson and Norvall had a more-than-able replacement in the form of Defibrillate, who returned to New Zealand this spring after a highly successful stint in Melbourne that netted eight wins including three at Listed level.
The eight-year-old son of Shocking finished third in the Gr.1 Livamol Classic (2040m) in October in his first start back on home soil, then won the Gr.3 Balmerino Stakes (2050m) at Pukekohe on November 1.
That prompted Richardson to start working towards the Zabeel Classic, run over the same course and distance some eight weeks later. When the big day finally rolled around on Monday, Defibrillate held up his end of the bargain, stepping out of the shadows of favourites Sinarahma and Prise De Fer and claiming his first win at the elite level.
Defibrillate was given a perfect midfield ride by South African jockey Warren Kennedy, settling into a smooth rhythm in fifth and one off the rail.
Sydney-based mare Polly Grey set a solid tempo out in front throughout the race, and she threw down the gauntlet to her rivals with a kick at the top of the straight.
But Defibrillate and Prise De Fer emerged from the pack and soon wore down the front-running grey mare, surging past and clearing out to fight a two-horse battle to the finish.
Last-start Gr.1 Captain Cook Stakes (1600m) hero Prise De Fer gave it everything he had but Defibrillate found a little more in the final 100 metres and kicked away to win by a length and three-quarters.
For Richardson, who also co-bred and part-owns Defibrillate, it was a hard race to watch.
“I had my eyes closed for a fair bit of it, and the four of us who were up there in the stand did some yelling,” he said.
“But what a result. This is a real thrill – one of the very best wins of my career. The owners are all close mates, we’re a good team, and it’s great to share this with them.
“It’s been a real team effort by my outstanding staff, who have been with me for a very long time, and of course Rogan at home.
“It was always the plan for this horse to have a bit of a gap between runs coming into this race, and it’ll be the same again with the Herbie Dyke Stakes (Gr.1, 2000m) his likely next start in February. Having a bit of space between his runs seems to suit him really well.”
Richardson bred Defibrillate in partnership with the McInteer Family Syndicate, and they share ownership with half a dozen others, including fellow Matamata trainer Lance O’Sullivan. Another co-owner is former Black Caps captain and now England test cricket coach Brendon McCullum, who returned from a recent clean sweep in Pakistan to be on course for Monday’s big win.
Monday’s Zabeel Classic also provided a first taste of Group One glory in New Zealand for Kennedy, a multiple premiership winner in South Africa who has made an immediate impact in his first couple of months in our riding ranks.
The 42-year-old has already ridden 20 winners, three of them at black-type level, and he also won Monday’s $100,000 Stella Artois 1500 Championship Final (1500m) aboard Habana.
“To come to a new country and have such a huge amount of support, and then to repay them with results like this is absolutely amazing,” Kennedy said. “It feels just like my very first Group One.
“The horse was an absolute professional. I just let him relax, and he seemed to enjoy the good, genuine pace, which was a bit stronger than I’d feared it might be. He started to build into the race, found his gap and really unwound. Once he did that, I knew he was going to be hard to beat.
“He was trained to perfection, they had him incredibly well, and he’s run accordingly.”