Racing: Crowning glory for NZ breeders

By Michael Guerin

Trainer CS Shum leads Little Bridge back to scale at Ascot yesterday. Photo / AP
Trainer CS Shum leads Little Bridge back to scale at Ascot yesterday. Photo / AP

For the Hawkins family pride means more than money.

And racing moments don't come much prouder than breeding a group one winner on the opening day of Royal Ascot.

The Hawkins own Cambridge's Wentwood Grange Stud and bred Little Bridge, who beat some of Europe's best sprinters in the £200,000 King's Stand Stakes at Ascot yesterday morning (NZT).

Ridden by former Aussie jockey Zac Purton, Little Bridge was in the leading brigade for much of the straight 1000m and held out Bated Breath by three-quarters of a length to win at 16-1.

Australian-trained mare Ortensia, who started equal favourite, finished ninth.

Little Bridge is now trained in Hong Kong but was sold for just $9000 at the Karaka weanling sale in 2007, bought by Hastings owner-trainer Margaret Harkema.

She trained him to win a Wanganui trial by seven lengths and he was soon whisked away to Hong Kong after a private sale.

He has gone on to win 10 of his 20 starts, including the group two Sprint Cup in Hong Kong in April, the victory which secured his trip to Ascot.

That was enough to convince Wentwood Grange owners Des and Janet Hawkins and their sons Dean and Leigh to book their tickets for the Royal Enclosure to be on hand to see yesterday's historic moment.

They left son Sean Hawkins at home to run the farm, which has 100 broodmares under its care, including 40 of Wentwood Grange's own.

"Dad rang this morning and was over the moon," Sean told the Herald.

"They were having a blast and they only went all that way to support Little Bridge.

"I had to stay home because I'm the responsible one," he said, "but I was screaming him home down the straight this morning."

Little Bridge is a son of Faltaat from the one-win mare Golden Rose, a daughter of Gold Brose.

Wentwood Grange bought into the family when two or three other members were showing promise but sold out again after Little Bridge was born when the family form went quiet.

"So while we don't have the mare any more, for a little operation like ours to breed a group one winner at Royal Ascot is a huge honour.

"And it is also great for the New Zealand breeding industry, so we couldn't be prouder." While Harkema also later sold Little Bridge, the win will have longer-term benefits for her as she owns a full sister and a half sister, who now become even more valuable broodmares.

Horses from this part of the world winning group one sprints at Royal Ascot are relatively common these days but are almost always Australian bred and trained.

So the victory is somewhat of a bonus for our industry which is better known for its milers and stayers internationally.

It was also the second Royal Ascot winner for Faltaat, after he sired Wunderwood to win the Duke Of Edinburgh Handicap.

The Westbury Stud stallion is best known locally as the sire of 2000 Guineas winner Tit For Taat and has proven himself to be one of the great-value New Zealand stallions in recent decades.

The other New Zealand-bred starter in the King's Stand, Joy And Fun, faded to 16th.

New Zealand's dual Cox Plate winner So You Think was a warm favourite in the Prince Of Wales Stakes contested early this morning.

But the horse everybody was talking about at Ascot, and anywhere else in the world where racing has a following, was Frankel.

The European champion was a staggering 11-length winner in the Queen Anne Stakes. His demolition job in the straight mile threw down the gauntlet to Aussie heroine Black Caviar in their personal battle for the title of world's best galloper.

After yesterday, that battle is advantage Frankel.

The most popular galloper in Britain, enhanced his status as the world's top-ranked horse yesterday, to take his record to 11 straight victories.

The 4-year-old entire, ridden by Tom Queally, started at odds of 1-10 before beating 11 rivals in the 1600m group one race.

Expectations were high and his trainer, Henry Cecil, was relieved Frankel had not disappointed his fans.

"There's no such thing as a certainty. He is a great horse ... He did exactly what I thought but he's still improving," Cecil said.

Rated the best horse for at least the past 25 years by the British Horseracing Authority last month, Frankel tracked pacemaker Bullet Train before taking the lead 600m from home.

The Aidan O'Brien-trained Excelebration finished second, marking his fifth defeat by Frankel, just ahead of Side Glance. "We were delighted with our horse but Frankel is unbelievable," O'Brien said.

"It's just a demolition again. He was awesome," said Queally, who also rode Frankel to last year's Ascot victory.

He said the horse has improved since then.

"He settled, he travelled, he got everything else off the bridle when I was still sitting there. He's amazing," Queally said, adding the win race was Frankel's best performance so far.

- additional reporting, AP

- NZ Herald

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