Mark Walker’s rip-roaring season produced another milestone victory at Taupo on Tuesday when the Te Akau head trainer unveiled a highly regarded juvenile to deliver on debut.
Walker was credited with his 1000th New Zealand success courtesy of Zourion, who scored at the first time of asking in the Placemakers Taupo 2YO (1100m).
“I was getting pretty close to the mark before I left for Singapore and it’s great to tick that off today for sure,” Walker said.
Zourion was sent out a dominant favourite off the back of an impressive trial win at Tauranga last month and improved quickly to lead after a tardy beginning.
She was hotly challenged 150m from home by Sako before rallying to beat the Stephen Marsh representative by half a-length with the winner’s stablemate Sky On Fire finishing third.
“I think it was a good effort because she only went into it with a 700m trial and the filly that ran third is a stakes winner and I’d heard quite good things about the second horse,” Walker said.
“I think the form out of the race will be really strong and if we’re happy with the way she pulls up we’ll probably run her in the Matamata Breeders’ Stakes (Gr.3, 1200m).”
The daughter of Zoustar, who was a $475,000 purchase out of breeder Pencarrow Stud’s draft at Karaka, has been nominated for the Gr.1 Golden Slipper Stakes (1200m) but Walker isn’t daring to dream just yet.
“We’ll get to Matamata first and small steps at a time. We’ll just wait and see how she progresses,” he said.
Zourion is raced by Cambridge Stud principals Brendan and Jo Lindsay, who had celebrated an earlier win with the filly’s stablemate Marvelouz in the Easy Insulation Maiden (1400m), with both horses ridden by Warren Kennedy.
“It’s great to train winners for Brendan and Jo, they have put in an enormous amount into the industry and it’s beautifully bred fillies like these that will be backbone of Cambridge Stud for years and years to come,” Walker said.
He is enjoying an outstanding season with 119 winners and notched his 100th domestic stakes win when Aromatic won the Gr.3 Counties Cup (2100m) in November and is on target to set another record in 2022/23.
Guaranteed to win his sixth New Zealand Trainers’ Premiership, he is on track to surpass Jamie Richards’ domestic record of 160 wins in a season achieved in the 2020/21 term.
Walker also became the quickest to post a century of wins in a season when Pure Imagination was successful at Tauranga on January 13. The previous mark had been set by Richards, now based in Hong Kong, on January 28, 2021.
He also paid tribute to Te Akau chief David Ellis, who gave Walker his racing start when he employed him straight out of school, and his wife Karyn Fenton-Ellis.
“I’m especially indebted to Dave and Karyn who do all the hard work putting the syndicates together and there has been so many great owners,” he said.
“They have put years into getting to this level with ownership and there are just so many loyal owners there, it’s incredible.
“We have trained for some lovely people over the years who have also become very good friends.”
Walker’s first training stint in Matamata from 1997 until 2010 realised 858 wins and he went back to 2003 to single out his highlight.
“I still think that Distinctly Secret’s win was really special when he won the old Kelt (now Gr.1 Livamol Classic, 2050m) all those years ago,” he said.
“He was bred on the farm and Dave owned the majority of him and it came at the right time when the stable really needed it.”
During his overseas stint heading Te Akau’s Singapore operation, Walker won four trainers’ titles and posted 684 wins.
“Obviously, the highlight in Singapore was winning the Gold Cup (2000m) with Elite Invincible,” he said.
“That’s the one race that all owners, jockeys and trainers want to win. It’s the most prestigious race on the Singapore calendar so it was good to get that one.”