It’s been a tough couple of years for Group One-winning stayer Ocean Billy and breeder-owner-trainer Bill Pomare, but the tide is turning and the son of Ocean Park is set to resume racing at Te Rapa on Saturday.
The Rotorua pair were sent on a whirlwind trip following the now eight-year-old’s victory in the 2021 Gr.1 Auckland Cup (3200m), with Pomare setting his sights on fulfilling a lifelong dream and chasing Gr.1 Melbourne Cup (3200m) success.
He subsequently entrusted Ocean Billy to the care of leading Sydney trainer Chris Waller who campaigned him in Melbourne later that spring where he finished ninth in the Gr.1 Caulfield Cup (2400m) and 23rd in the Melbourne Cup.
While unsuccessful, Pomare enjoyed fulfilling his dream of competing in a Melbourne Cup, but the wheels would soon come off further Australian aspirations when Ocean Billy sustained a tendon injury in Sydney last February.
The gelding returned to New Zealand after initial treatment in Australia and underwent several months of rehab before an unsuccessful two-race campaign late last year. Pomare elected to give his pride and joy a lengthy spell and he has enjoyed his year-long hiatus from racing, which will come to an end this Saturday in the Print House Mile (1600m).
“I am looking forward to it. It has definitely been a long wait, but everything seems to be pretty spot on at the moment,” Pomare said.
“He had bowed a tendon in Australia. We brought him home and the tendon went back to a spot I was happy with, so we started working him. He was doing everything fine, but we probably kicked off a bit early. We kicked off when the tracks were still wet, which wasn’t a good move because with a tendon that is repairing, the last thing you need is a wet track.
“He struck those wet tracks, which antagonised the tendon again, so I turned him right out and gave him a good spell. He had a lot of care and attention and was in a hill paddock.
“We have got several rolling hills on our property and I think climbing up and down those hills are as good as anything (for rehabilitation). The farrier is attending to his feet to support his tendons better and his feet look good. He used to have a fair bit of toe on him, but we got that taken back so he rolls over a bit easier. Things like that have probably helped him to stay sound and be happy in his work.
“The tendon has come really well and hardened up and we have had a trial and a few decent hit-outs and things seem to be really good with him.”
Pomare said Ocean Billy has developed a lot of size and strength in his period away from racing.
“He is quite a different horse. He is a heck of a lot stronger and he has really bulked up,” Pomare said.
“He spends a lot of time rearing and bucking around the paddock. We knew he felt pretty good, we just had to control it all, keep him in one piece and get him through it. He has done that well. He is certainly acting like his old self, but he is carrying quite a lot of bulk now, he is a solid horse.”
In his first-up assignment, Ocean Billy has been lumbered with 62kg, so Pomare has engaged four-kilogram claiming apprentice jockey Ngakau Hailey to ease his load.
“He needs this and the mile is probably ideal for him,” Pomare said. “I will use a four-kilo claimer on him and take as much weight off his back as I can. 62kg is not a good weight to be putting on him but he is a big, strong horse and for the first couple of races we will look after him a bit as far as weight goes and hopefully they don’t hit us as hard (with weight) the whole way through.”
Pomare has his eyes on the Gr.2 Auckland Cup (3200m) at Ellerslie in March, and while it doesn’t hold the elite-level status it did when won by Ocean Billy two years ago, he would dearly love to win it again.
“We have got to start and get him running so we can get him ready for those staying races,” he said.
“The Auckland Cup is the main target. He goes pretty well up that way and the new track should suit him because he likes a better track.”
Pomare is also looking forward to next month’s New Zealand Bloodstock National Yearling Sales at Karaka where he will offer Ocean Billy’s full brother through Waikato Stud’s draft, who will go through the ring as lot 669.
“Annabel Neasham bought his full-brother this year (for $140,000) and I have his other full-brother going to the sales next month,” Pomare said. “He is a very nice-looking colt.
“He (Ocean Billy) has got a half-brother by Noverre who is a beautiful colt. She (Cool Storm, dam) does leave nice foals. We are going to have one more shot at getting her in-foal this year, she is going to Super Seth.”