IN Racing
Te Akau to continue trans-Tasman momentum
The 2023-24 season has already delivered countless highlights in both New Zealand and Australia for Te Akau Racing, and the powerhouse Kiwi syndicators are hoping the next few days will produce more of the same.
Richard Edmunds, LOVERACING.NZ News Desk | April 05, 2024
Imperatriz will be shooting for her 11th Group One in the T J Smith Stakes (1200m) at Randwick on Saturday. Photo: Bruno Cannatelli

The 2023-24 season has already delivered countless highlights in both New Zealand and Australia for Te Akau Racing, and the powerhouse Kiwi syndicators are hoping the next few days will produce more of the same.

Trainers Mark Walker and Sam Bergerson are dominating the domestic premiership with 131 wins, no fewer than 18 black-type successes and more than $6.7 million in total prizemoney. Meanwhile, Walker’s Cranbourne stable has produced 13 wins in metropolitan Melbourne at an astonishing and unparalleled strike rate of 31 percent.

Te Akau is set to feature prominently on the big stage again on both sides of the Tasman this weekend, with six runners in black-type features at Trentham on Saturday afternoon before their incredible sprinting mare Imperatriz shoots for her 11th Group One win in the James Squire T J Smith Stakes (1200m) at Randwick. Focus then shifts to the Riverside Stables sales complex, where David Ellis is set to be a major player on the buyers’ bench during the Inglis Australian Easter Yearling Sale on Sunday and Monday.

Bergerson has held down the fort on home soil this week, overseeing the build-ups of a Trentham team that includes Captured By Love, Move To Strike and Unbridled Joy in the Gr.1 Courtesy Ford Manawatu Sires’ Produce Stakes (1400m).

Captured By Love won all of her first four starts including the Gr.2 Wakefield Challenge Stakes (1100m), Gr.2 Matamata Breeders’ Stakes (1200m) and Gr.3 Taranaki 2YO Classic (1200m).

The Written Tycoon filly had her first taste of defeat with a third placing in the Gr.1 Sistema Stakes (1200m), where she had a less-than-ideal run but still finished a close third behind Sires’ Produce Stakes favourite Velocious.

“It all just went a little bit wrong for her,” Bergerson said. “She jumped well, but then it was looking like Warren (Kennedy, jockey) might get posted wide, so he started to slide back. In the end, he had to go right the way back.

“Warren briefly lost an iron in the straight as well, so we didn’t have much luck in the running, but she still ran a really good race. She seems to have come through it in good shape, and the way she attacked the line at the end of 1200m suggests the step up to 1400m should suit her.”

I Am Invincible colt Move To Strike announced himself as one of the brightest talents of his generation with a stunning five-length romp on debut at Te Rapa in December. He has been beaten in both of his starts since then, splitting Bellatrix Star and Velocious on rain-affected ground in the Gr.2 Eclipse Stakes (1200m) and then suffering cardiac arrhythmia when fifth in the Gr.3 Matamata Slipper (1200m).

“He pulled up with a bit of a funny heart after Matamata,” Bergerson said. “We gave him a bit of a quiet time after that, and he’s gone through all of the tests leading into this race and ticked all the boxes.

“His work on Tuesday was top-notch. He worked with Unbridled Joy and had the better of him there with a gallop that was really eye-catching. We can’t see any reason why he won’t run a really big race this weekend.”

Unbridled Joy finished second on debut behind stablemate When Stars Align, then scored a stylish come-from-behind win at Matamata in late January. His only subsequent appearance was a strong-finishing third in the Matamata Slipper.

“We thought he was really good late in the Slipper and he seems to be crying out for 1400m,” Bergerson said. “We’ve put some blinkers on to sharpen him up a bit, and we’re really happy with how he’s been going leading into the race.

“Obviously it’s a Group One field and there’s some real quality there, but we think we’re going into it with three very nice two-year-olds who all deserve their chance.”

Well-performed seven-year-old Aotea Lad will contest the Gr.2 City of Palmerston North Awapuni Gold Cup (2100m). The Savabeel gelding raced in strong form through the summer, including an eye-catching third in the Listed Kaimai Stakes (2000m). He was a last-start seventh in the Gr.2 Japan Trophy (1600m) on a Heavy8 track at Tauranga.

“His form has been really good,” Bergerson said. “He struck a bottomless track at Tauranga, but still ran very well there. The start before that, he looked the winner 100m out in the Kaimai and ended up a close third. His work has been excellent this week.”

Petrucci will have her first attempt at 1400m in the Listed Bramco Granite & Marble Flying Handicap, having finished strongly in recent starts for second in the Gr.3 Concorde Handicap (1200m), fourth in the Gr.3 King’s Plate (1200m) and fifth in the Listed Lightning Handicap (1200m).

“She races quite keenly, which made us think she might just be a 1200m horse,” Bergerson said. “But the way she’s been hitting the line suggests she might want 1400m. Michael McNab, even though he’s not riding her this week, has always thought that’s the case. So we’re excited to see her take that step.

“She’s drawn out, but we normally go back anyway. We’ve taken the blinkers off and added the shadow roll, and hopefully we’ll see her relax a bit better in the running.”

Balance Of Power will also take a step up in distance, moving up beyond 1600m for the first time in Saturday’s Gr.3 Higgins Concrete Manawatu Classic (2100m).

“We think the 2100m will suit him,” Bergerson said. “He’s shown glimpses of being a really nice horse at times, but then throws in a disappointing run. His work this week has probably been some of the best he’s ever done.

“Team Rogerson’s horse Just As Sharp looks very hard to beat, but it’s a fairly even line-up apart from him. We think he’s got a nice chance to pick up some black type.”

Te Akau’s day kicks off with promising fillies Egyptian Queen and Tightly Laced in The Oaks Stud Premier (1200m).

“Egyptian Queen has just had a habit of missing the kick, so we tried taking the nose band off in a trial and she jumped better,” Bergerson said. “She’s been running well in good company and might be hard to beat if she jumps well.

“Tightly Laced has shown some good ability as well, so those two might be a couple of nice chances in the opening race on the card.”

Walker is in Sydney overseeing the T J Smith Stakes build-up with Imperatriz, along with doing yearling inspections alongside Ellis in the countdown to the Easter Sale. He has been delighted with everything Imperatriz has done since her last-start win in the Gr.1 William Reid Stakes (1200m).

“Everything’s gone to plan since her last run and she’s heading into the weekend in great shape,” Walker said. “I don’t have any concerns about her switching to a right-handed track.

“The thing that does worry me is the weather. They’re meant to get a lot of rain in Sydney. A wet track isn’t going to be ideal at all, but we’re all in the same boat. One advantage for us is that she’s got plenty of race fitness under her belt.

“We’re happy with how we’re drawn (gate six), it should give Opie a few options.”

Imperatriz mark walker and sam bergerson Move To Strike Te Akau Racing Egyptian Queen Tightly Laced Balance Of Power Petrucci Aotea Lad Unbridled Joy Captured By Love