With more than a dozen runners on Saturday and a similar number again on Boxing Day, the Te Akau Racing team is barely going to have a chance to catch their breath over the Christmas long weekend.
Boxing Day has played a key role in the tangerine juggernaut’s incredible success in recent seasons. Trainer Mark Walker saddled a winning treble at the Pukekohe meeting last year, and his predecessor Jamie Richards came away with four wins in 2021 and five in 2020.
Walker and training partner Sam Bergerson hold a strong hand again in 2023, headed by Campionessa, who is rated a $2.50 favourite for the Gr.1 Cambridge Stud Zabeel Classic (2050m).
The Contributer mare was a two-time second placegetter at Group One level last season, chasing home Sharp ‘N’ Smart in the Herbie Dyke Stakes (2000m) and Prowess in the Bonecrusher New Zealand Stakes (2050m).
Well below her best in two early spring appearances in September, Campionessa has roared back to top form with back-to-back wins in the Gr.2 Auckland Thoroughbred Breeders’ Stakes (1400m) and Gr.2 Cal Isuzu Stakes (1600m) in her last two starts.
“She really seems to have got her confidence and her groove back,” Bergerson said. “She was awesome in the Cal Isuzu at Te Rapa. It looked like an ideal race for her, and she delivered.
“She’ll have one last gallop on Saturday morning, with Opie (Bosson) coming to ride her.
“She’s got a nice draw (gate four). It’s going to be an interesting race, with a few different form lines coming together, but we couldn’t be any happier with her. She’s bouncing around at home.”
Campionessa will be joined in the Zabeel Classic field by stablemate Prise De Fer, who has already run in three races this month including second placings in the Gr.3 Eagle Technology Stakes (1600m) and the Gr.3 Waikato Cup (2400m).
“The Waikato Cup was a bit of a throw at the stumps, but he ran another really good race that day,” Bergerson said. “He’s thriving on racing. He’s eight now but seems to be in really good form. He clearly loves his racing, and we’re happy to continue racing him for as long as that’s the case.
“We’ve kept him a little bit on the fresh side. He’ll just have a little run along on Saturday morning, which should be all he needs. He’s going to be the fittest horse in the field, and it’s massive to get a world-class jockey like Blake Shinn.”
Te Akau also holds a strong hand in the Gr.2 Shaw’s Wire Ropes Auckland Guineas (1400m), with Tokyo Tycoon and Quintessa sharing $5 second favouritism behind the $3.50 market leader Zabmanzor.
Tokyo Tycoon and Quintessa both resumed from a freshen-up in the Wentwood Grange 3YO (1200m) at Te Rapa on December 16, where they produced strong finishes to place behind the all-the-way winner Pendragon.
“Obviously we would have liked to get the win with either of those two horses that day, but Niranjan Parmar rode a great race in front on the winner,” Bergerson said. “We were very happy with the performances by both of our horses. Quintessa’s sectionals were fantastic.
“They’re both looking for a bit further now, so the step up to 1400m is going to suit them. Switching back to set weights is another big plus. It’ll suit Tokyo Tycoon a lot better than the 58.5kg he had to carry last time.”
Walker and Bergerson will also chase Boxing Day black type in the South Island, with Millefiori and Kai contesting the Listed Property Brokers – Ray Kean Hazlett Stakes (1200m).
“They’re two mares who are very capable on their day and deserve a shot at some black type,” Bergerson said. “There’s a bit of moisture in the track at the moment (Soft6), which isn’t a problem for either of them.
“Kai goes into the race in good form. She’s unfortunately drawn the outside, but she gets in with a nice light weight.
“Millefiori is a seven-time winner, so it would be great to add some black type to her pedigree page if we can.”
Meanwhile, Te Akau’s Trentham contingent on Saturday includes Group One-winning mare Romancing The Moon in the Gr.2 Bramco Granite & Marble Manawatu Challenge Stakes (1400m), along with lightweight runners Fierce Flight and Leaderboard in the Gr.3 Humphries Construction Manawatu Cup (2300m).
“Romancing The Moon is a really tough mare,” Bergerson said. “She loves racing and thrives off it. She had a busy season as a three-year-old and handled it really well.
“She ran a top race for third at Te Rapa the other day and wasn’t beaten by a big margin. She’s come through it in good order and has shown that she can travel well, so we’re pretty happy to back her up this weekend.
“Peter Didham’s horse looks hard to beat in the Cup (Manifique), but I think our two are a couple of nice lightweight chances. Fierce Flight in particular was very good last week in testing ground. He’s stayed down there in Palmy since then and by all accounts is looking great.
“He found some really good form around this time last year and raced well through the summer and autumn, so we’re hoping to see him do something similar again this time around. He gets in with a nice light weight and has a good strong rider in Craig Grylls.”