IN Racing
Richardson embracing Millions challenge
“As long as the track is good, he’ll be very competitive again in this.”
Jess de Lautour, LOVERACING.NZ News Desk | January 23, 2024

Chasing $2.5 million in stakes doesn’t happen every Saturday on the New Zealand calendar, and Graham Richardson is embracing having two runners chasing the major spoils on TAB Karaka Millions Night at Ellerslie.

Ever-consistent three-year-old To Catch A Thief will represent Richardson and training partner Rogan Norvall in the $1.5 million TAB Karaka Millions 3YO (1600m), while a fast-improving Channel Surfer will take his place in the inaugural $1 million Elsdon Park Aotearoa Classic (1600m).

A perennial bridesmaid, To Catch A Thief remains a maiden after 11 raceday appearances, however, has shared top-flight company in accumulating nine third-placed finishes and more than $164,000 in stakes. Among these efforts were the Gr.2 Eclipse Stakes (1200m), Gr.1 Sistema Stakes (1200m), and Gr.1 Manawatu Sires’ Produce Stakes (1400m) during his juvenile season, and the Gr.2 Sarten Memorial (1400m) and Gr.1 New Zealand 2000 Guineas (1600m) in recent starts behind Crocetti.

The son of U S Navy Flag struggled to find clear air in the straight on Ellerslie’s opening night on January 14, finishing sixth behind Fortunate Son, but returns a highly-respected chance at the mile this Saturday, despite his $31 quote on the TAB Futures market.

“He just lacked a bit of luck last time, he had to change ground a few times and by then it was just too late. He went very well before that,” Richardson said.

“As long as the track is good, he’ll be very competitive again in this.”

Richardson confirmed Robbie Dolan would partner the gelding alongside stablemate Channel Surfer, the Queensland-based hoop making the journey across the Tasman to ride Australian-trained $1 million TAB Karaka Millions 2YO (1200m) chance Beau Dazzler.

With an impressive win last-start at Pukekohe over subsequent victors in Dubai Diva and race-rival Rudyard, Channel Surfer gave Richardson a vote of confidence to remain in an extremely competitive Aotearoa Classic line-up.

However, with a trio of Group One winners (Legarto, Sharp’N’Smart and Desert Lightning) also accepting alongside Australian raider Holymanz, the Matamata trainer is aware of the lofty task ahead for the son of Derryn.

“I trialled him last Tuesday and he went extremely well, Warren (Kennedy) said he felt better than the day he won, if that’s anything to go by. He’s a good galloper, but it’s a very strong field,” he said.

“It’s just an honour to have a horse in a million-dollar race, it’ll be very hard to win it but he’s in with a runner’s chance.”

An exciting evening at Ellerslie for Richardson will be preceded by two runners at his local meeting at Matamata on Wednesday, with last-start winner State Of Fear to be guided by Kennedy the Centigrade 2000.

The five-year-old gelding rectified four runner-up finishes on the bounce at Tauranga earlier this month, breaking maiden status without many favours in the final stages.

“He won well last time, he did it the hard way by going back and still got up to win. It’s always a question if they’re going to step up to the next grade, but he won well enough to suggest that he could,” Richardson said.

“He’s on his home track, he’s really just starting to work it out I think.”

Stepping back from a strong Gr.2 Eclipse Stakes (1200m) assignment on New Year’s Day, Richardson is hoping to see a solid performance from juvenile filly Lotus when she contests the Entain/NZB Insurance Pearl Series (1200m).

“I’ve put a set of blinkers on as she hasn’t been easy, she’s a bit cheeky but it was a better run that it looked last time,” he said.

“She’s got a nice draw (1), and I’m hoping she’ll do things right and go well.”

To Catch A Thief Robbie Dolan graham richardson and rogan norvall Channel Surfer Karaka Million 3YO Classic Karaka Elsdon Park Aotearoa Classic Lotus State Of Fear