Season Review: A Group 1 Romance

Date: 8 Aug 2023

Season Review: A Group 1 Romance

 

Our 2022/23 season review is drawing to a close - what a magical season it was with 203 New Zealand wins, 33 at Group/Listed level - plus of course Imperatriz's Group 1 victory and Group 1 second placing (beaten a whisker) in Melbourne and Sydney respectively.  

We are thrilled to also learn that our trainer Mark Walker is one of three finalists for the 2022/23 Champion Trainer of the Year title to be awarded on 10 September at the Horse of the Year Awards - what a stellar season he and the team have had - adding to that elite success was of course Romancing the Moon ... 

 

The 27th stakes win for trainer Mark Walker this season came with real conviction when Romancing The Moon (3 f El Roca – Underthemoonlight, by El Hermano) raced clear in the $65,000 NZB Insurance Stakes (Listed, 1400m) on 4 March at Wingatui.

Given time (28 days) after finishing second in the Dunedin Guineas (Listed, 1500m) on 4 February at Wingatui, Romancing The Moon showed her vigour for racing had not diminished during a busy season.

Runner-up in both the The O’Learys Fillies Stakes (Listed, 1200m) and Soliloquy Stakes (Gr. 3, 1400m), and fourth in the 1000 Guineas (Gr. 1, 1600m), she had sprinted clear to win easily by two and three-quarter lengths in January at Matamata, and scored again in similar fashion.

Ridden by Champion Te Akau apprentice Joe Kamaruddin, who scored earlier on the programme aboard debutante stable-mate Cu Chulainn (Burgundy), Romancing The Moon secured a perfect trail, was clear to challenge on straightening, and dashed away in centre track to score by five and a half lengths.

The race was also notable for last start winning stable-mate Miss Dunsford (Dissident) sustaining a huge finish for third, ridden by another Te Akau apprentice, Hakim Kamaruddin.

“It was a lovely ride by Joe (Kamaruddin) and a terrific effort by the filly,” Walker said. 

“She’s a filly that Dave (Ellis) bought cheaply and to win a stakes race on the back of really good group race performances adds a lot of value to her future.  She will come home via the Group One Levin Classic at Trentham, and she certainly deserves her chance.”

 

 

Romancing The Moon duly won the Levin Classic (Gr. 1, 1600m) on NZ Oaks Day (18 March) at Trentham, beating stable-mate Skew Wiff (Savabeel), after Imperatriz (I Am Invincible) had led home a Te Akau first four the previous year.

Owned by Te Akau Moonstruck Racing Partnership (Mgr: Karyn Fenton-Ellis MNZM), Romancing The Moon was purchased as a yearling by David Ellis CNZM for $50,000 at the 2021 Karaka Book 1 Sale, from the draft Westbury Stud.

“She’s had a pretty long campaign, but really impressed winning two of her last four starts and a wonderful thrill for the owners,” Ellis said at the time of this win.

“There is no shortage of toughness in her attitude to racing and the way she won today suggests she’ll go well in the Levin Classic, too (which she of course won).

“Her mother was a very tough race mare. She’s left a really good first foal in Romancing The Moon and we’ve had so much success with first foals.”

Sire El Roca, by Champion Sire Fastnet Rock (Danehill), was a terrific racehorse, winning two stakes' races over 1200 metres and a strong Group performer that placed at Group One level. In his early days at stud he has already sired Group One winner Travelling Light who scored in the Levin Classic (Gr. 1, 1600m), and other horses to win 12 stakes races. 

Undermoonlight was an underrated mare, noted for her tenacious qualities, especially on yielding ground. She was a listed, Group Two and Group Three winner to 1400 metres and Group One placed over 1400 metres.

Not trialled or raced as a two-year-old, Romancing The Moon competed 11 times as a three-year-old for four wins and four seconds, including a Group One and Listed victories, placing three times at Group or Listed level, and $327,695 in prize money. 

 

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Te Akau trainer Mark Walker kept racking up big races when Romancing The Moon (3 f El Roca – Underthemoonlight, by El Hermano) won the $350,000 Gee & Hickton Funeral Directors Levin Classic (Gr. 1, 1600m) on NZ Oaks Day (18 March) at Trentham.

After racing clear to win the NZB Insurance Stakes (Listed, 1400m) on 4 March at Wingatui, Romancing The Moon provided the fourth Group One victory as the stable continued to fly. 

A year earlier, Te Akau prepared the first four in the Levin Classic, won by Champion Three-Year-Old and five-time Group One winner Imperatriz (I Am Invincible), while third placed I Wish I Win (Savabeel) has since won the $10m Golden Eagle at Rosehill, NSW.

It was the fourth Levin Classic for the stable, following consecutive wins with Hall of Fame (Savabeel) and Age of Fire (Fastnet Rock) in 2017 & 2018, respectively, in addition to Imperatriz.

Runner-up in both the The O’Learys Fillies Stakes (Listed, 1200m) and Soliloquy Stakes (Gr. 3, 1400m), and fourth in the 1000 Guineas (Gr. 1, 1600m), Romancing The Moon kept enhancing her three-year-old season to result in the ultimate prize at Group One level.

Ridden positively from the outset by Kozzi Asano to take up a trailing position, Romancing The Moon ranged outside the leader with 600m remaining and after being briefly headed at the 200m by stable-mate Skew Wiff (Savabeel) she rebelled the challenge to fight back and score with authority.

Skew Wiff, not an easy filly to ride, was beautifully handled by jockey Opie Bosson and kept fighting to retain second.

 

 

“She’s done a lot of travelling this season and it was a great effort,” said Walker, ahead of a record-breaking season and his 10th training premiership.

“She was bought cheaply by Dave (Ellis) as a yearling at Karaka, and a good, tough, filly, with a fair amount of class.   She’s continued to improve all season. She was at Wanganui for the first listed race of the season and been really competitive through to her peak performance today.

“There have been a lot of people involved in getting her to win a Group One; I think those South Island trips (twice) are sometimes the making of a horse and she can go for a well deserved spell.”

“The way she won her last stakes race earlier in March, it looked like she’d be a good chance today and it just goes to show how tough she is in her attitude to racing and also what a brilliant trainer Mark Walker is,” Ellis said.

“We’ve had 11 wins in the past week and just incredible the season Mark is having. It’s his first season back from training for us in Singapore, and while he knows the territory it’s still an amazing performance.

“He can only do these things with the phenomenal team he’s got to help him and people have no idea just how proud Karyn and I are of them all.”

 

 

Not trialled or raced as a two-year-old, Romancing The Moon competed 11 times as a three-year-old for four wins and four seconds, including a Group One and Listed victories, placing three times at Group or Listed level, and $327,695 in prize money. 

 

Te Akau previous wins in the Levin Classic (Gr. 1, 1600m):

2022 – Imperatriz (I Am Invincible)

2018 – Age of Fire (Fastnet Rock)

2017 – Hall of Fame (Savabeel)

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