Te Akau Revisits Happy Hunting Grounds

Date: 12 Jan 2024

Te Akau Revisits Happy Hunting Grounds

Loveracing.nz reports:

A bumper contingent of 29 entries this weekend for Te Akau Racing includes three-pronged attacks on a pair of races that hold special recent memories for the syndication juggernaut.

The first of those is Saturday’s Gr.1 Cambridge Stud Levin Classic (1600m) at Trentham, in which Quintessa, Trobriand and Certainly give Te Akau a trio of leading chances to land their third consecutive win in the race alongside Imperatriz (2022) and Romancing The Moon (2023).

A day later in the long-awaited reopening of Ellerslie, Te Akau will be represented by Maracatu, Cognoscenti and Sister Ping in the Stella Artois (1200m) for two-year-olds. Effectively a final dress rehearsal for the TAB Karaka Millions 2YO (1200m) just under two weeks later, Te Akau have made this race their own in the past with victories by Avantage (2018), Sword Of Osman (2019), On The Bubbles (2021) and Fellini (2022).

The Levin Classic was held in March in the last two years, when Imperatriz beat On The Bubbles and I Wish I Win in a stable trifecta in 2022 and Romancing The Moon defeated stablemate Skew Wiff a year later.

The $500,000 feature has shifted back to its previous mid-summer slot this season, but once again Te Akau holds a formidable hand. On Thursday, the TAB rated Quintessa an equal $4 favourite alongside Mary Shan, while Trobriand was at $9 and Certainly was a highly respected third-string runner at $12.

The stable’s number-one jockey Opie Bosson has elected to ride Quintessa, with Matt Cameron and Warren Kennedy taking the mounts on Trobriand and Certainly respectively.

Quintessa kicked off her career with impressive wins in all of her first three starts including the Gr.3 Gold Trail Stakes (1200m). She has returned from a spring freshen-up with strong-finishing seconds behind Pendragon over 1200m at Te Rapa and in the Gr.2 Auckland Guineas (1400m) on Boxing Day.

Bought by David Ellis for $170,000 at Karaka in 2022, Quintessa has already banked $157,150 from her five-start career.

“Quintessa is a filly we’ve always really liked,” said Sam Bergerson, who trains alongside Mark Walker. “She tries her heart out every time she goes to the races, and her record reflects that.

“She wasn’t beaten by a big margin in the Guineas last time and has come through it in great order. She’s heading into Saturday’s Levin Classic as a fantastic chance in what looks a very open and even race. Opie is going to ride her. She’s going down there in really good form and we’re confident that she’ll cope with the travel.

“The step up to 1600m should suit her. We’ve always believed that the further she goes, the better she’ll be. She holds nominations for the Derby (Gr.1, 2400m) and Oaks (Gr.1, 2400m), so we’re expecting that she’ll be able to see out a strong mile and further.”

Trobriand was a Group Two winner last season and placed twice at Group Three level in the spring. He was a last-start fourth in the Gr.1 New Zealand 2000 Guineas (1600m), and he ran fourth behind Legarto in a star-studded trial at Tauranga on January 2.

“His performance had a lot of merit in that hot trial against classy older horses,” Bergerson said. “His work on Tuesday morning was enormous – Opie got off him and said it’s probably the best he’s ever worked leading into a race.

“The form lines are a little bit tricky to line up, coming back from the south where he ran a creditable fourth from an awkward barrier in the Guineas. But he’s a lovely colt with a great brain and is another one we think can be very competitive.”

Te Akau’s Levin Classic contingent is rounded out by the lightly raced Certainly, who finished second behind Pendragon on debut at Te Aroha in November before scoring a comfortable maiden win at Matamata on December 22.

“This is a bit of a throw at the stumps, but we’ve always held her in high regard,” Bergerson said. “We liked her as a contender for the 1000 Guineas (Gr.1, 1600m) in the spring, but she had a bit of a setback and we just had to give her a bit of time. She’s come back in really good order since then.

“We thought she’d win first-up at Te Aroha, but that form looks super now after the winner (Pendragon) won three in a row up to Group Two level. She was really good in her maiden win next time out, and the runner-up (Koheroa) won his next start.

“Her inexperience is the only worry. In terms of ability, we think she’s right up there. It’s just going to be a bit for her to cope with in only her third start. If she can do that, it wouldn’t surprise us if she was right in the mix.”

Another feature race at Trentham on Saturday with strong Te Akau representation is the Listed IRT Wellesley Stakes (1100m) for two-year-olds. The Victress was a stylish debut winner at Te Aroha on January 3, while first-starter Nebuchadnezzar is a trial winner and comes from a very familiar family.

“The Victress is a lovely filly David bought on the Gold Coast last year,” Bergerson said. “She’s not a Karaka Millions filly, so this race looks like a great chance to try to pick up some black type. She’s a progressive filly who we think has taken good benefit from her debut run.

“The other horse is a half-brother to Dynastic, who won the Karaka Million for us and was a fantastic two-year-old. This horse surprised us a bit – he’s a really laid-back customer and has flown under the radar, but every time we’ve asked him to do something in a gallop, jumpout or trial, he’s been very forward and natural. He’s a good, strong type.”

Bergerson also has high hopes for fellow juveniles Maracatu, Cognoscenti and Sister Ping at Ellerslie on Sunday.

“Maracatu is going the right way,” he said. “He went up to Ellerslie on Monday to have a look around, and Opie was pleased with how he did everything. His work has been good. We’re hoping he can run well on Sunday and we can press on to the Karaka Millions.

“Sister Ping has a few tricks and quirks. She’s not the easiest horse to handle, but if she puts it all together, she definitely has the ability. Her trials have been super, but she just got herself too worked up before the race on debut. We’ve been trying things at home to get her to relax.

“Cognoscenti has been a touch disappointing. We’ve gone to a full cup blinker and a leather nose band this week to see if that helps. His work has been good. He’d need to step up from his previous runs if he’s going to be a Karaka Millions chance.”

Easy last-start maiden winner War Of Succession is expected to be a key player in Sunday’s Listed Gingernuts Salver (2100m).

“He’s by Tavistock out of a Zabeel mare, so we’ve always been keen to get him up over ground,” Bergerson said. “He showed what he’s capable of last start. We’re plotting a path to the Derby with him, and we think he’s a very nice staying prospect going forward.”


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