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Horse racing: Record-breaker in seventh heaven

Michael Guerin,
Publish Date
Tue, 2 Jan 2024, 9:57AM
Warren Kennedy Winning On Board Habana At Pukekohe. Photo / Trish Dunell
Warren Kennedy Winning On Board Habana At Pukekohe. Photo / Trish Dunell

Horse racing: Record-breaker in seventh heaven

Michael Guerin,
Publish Date
Tue, 2 Jan 2024, 9:57AM

Superstar jockey Warren Kennedy set a record for wins by a jockey on a New Zealand raceday at Pukekohe on New Year’s Day and had the TAB staring down the barrel of a multi-million-dollar payout. 

The South African, who moved here just 16 months ago, rode seven winners at the mega meeting, including the $450,000 Sistema Railway at Group 1 level on Waitak and three other Group 2 races for one of the greatest single-day achievements in the history of New Zealand racing. 

Kennedy also won the $225,000 Rich Hill Mile on Habana, denying Swedish jockey Ulrika Holmquist her first New Zealand group victory, with Saint Bathans grabbed right on the line. 

The man nicknamed The Wizard Of Waz also won Group 2 races on Bellatrix Star and About Time, and support card victories on Grande Gallo, Pour The Wine and Karman Line. 

Ironically, Waitak, Grande Gallo and Karman Line are all co-trained by Lance O’Sullivan, one of the five jockeys who jointly held the previous New Zealand record of six riding wins at one meeting. 

Punters jumped aboard the Kennedy express to the extent that had he won the last race on Ominous, the TAB payout for Kennedy-based multi bets ending on that race would have been more than $4 million. 

To show the racing gods have a sense of humour, Ominous dropped out to run last. 

That won’t detract from an incredible day for a jockey Kiwi punters had never heard of 15 months ago. 

Kennedy moved here from South Africa with wife Barb and two young daughters, and was an instant hit with trainers, an experienced jockey with a gift on the track and, often as importantly, able to provide intelligent feedback after races and trials. 

He tops the New Zealand jockeys’ premiership and is developing a cult following which could one day rival perennial punters’ hero Opie Bosson. 

With Bosson having ridden five winners on Boxing Day, jockeys such as Michael McNab and Craig Grylls at the peak of their powers, Irish jockey Joe Doyle riding so well and plenty of other established black type and premier meeting-level jockeys, the New Zealand ranks have their best top-end depth in some time. 

The great news for Kennedy’s new fan club is, despite the insistence of racing’s persistent rumour mill, he says he is here to stay, even though Australian racing could supply even more riches if he could break into the top echelon there. 

“This is where we want to make our home, so we don’t intend going anywhere,” Kennedy told the Herald. 

“Sure, if I got the chance, I’d love to go on some raids to Australia, but that would be it. 

“We have already moved here, which is a big upheaval, and we don’t want to do that again. 

“And we’ve had such great support and so many people be good to us here, so we want this to be our home.” 

While he has arrived on the scene like a hurricane, Kennedy is also in for a treat, as on Sunday week, he gets to ride in races for the first time at the new Ellerslie, where on January 27, the TAB Karaka Millions meeting will be one of the most anticipated in New Zealand racing in decades. 

Two of Kennedy’s big New Year’s Day winners could be there, too, with Waitak emerging as a late surprise contender for the $1m Elsdon Park Aotearoa Classic, while Kennedy’s upset 2-year-old winner Bellatrix Star has to be hard to beat in the Karaka Million. 

Waitak’s performance to come from last in the Railway was even more remarkable considering he raced in two Derbies last season but thrashed many of our best sprinters on Monday. 

Trainers Lance O’Sullivan and Andrew Scott have the option of stepping him back up to 1600m for the Aotearoa Classic in 25 days which, while unconventional, is no stranger than a Derby horse winning the Railway. 

Bellatrix Star’s victory in the Eclipse Stakes not only confused the Karaka Million picture, but our entire juvenile pecking order, as she came from behind much-hyped stablemate Move To Strike to beat him fair and square. 

The Te Akau team weren’t offering excuses for Move To Strike’s defeat and he isn’t Karaka Million eligible, so their Boxing Day winner Cool N Fast now shares KM favouritism with Velocious, who was a brave third on New Year’s Day, with Bellatrix Star at $5.50 for our richest juvenile race. 

Other special moments included Cambridge Stud owners Brendan and Jo Lindsay owning About Time, who won the first running of the Sir Patrick Hogan Classic, the race named after the late breeding icon who owned Cambridge Stud for decades before selling it to the Lindsays. 

They also own Rich Hill Mile winner Habana, a smart miler named after a South African sporting legend. 

We may have seen another of those at Pukekohe on New Year’s Day. 

The magnificent seven - Warren Kennedy’s record day 

R1: Grande Gallo, paying $7.40 (tote price) 

R3: Bellatrix Star, paying $10.70 

R4: Pour The Wine, paying $7.40 

R5: About Time, paying $3.80 

R7: Karman Line, paying $6 

R8: Waitak, paying $11 

R9: Habana, paying $3.80 

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