Xiong Feng top of the Million tree

By Mike Dillon

Karaka Million at Ellerslie Race Course Auckland today. Jockey Danielle Johnson wins on Xiong Feng. Photo / Doug Sherring.
Karaka Million at Ellerslie Race Course Auckland today. Jockey Danielle Johnson wins on Xiong Feng. Photo / Doug Sherring.

If there was one horse that looked less like a 2-year-old winner in last night's (Sunday) $1 million Karaka Million it was Xiong Feng.

It proved once again that looks are important only in the auction ring as Xiong Feng ran the other Million hopefuls ragged with an all-the-way victory in New Zealand's richest race.

There is little wrong with Xiong Feng physically, save perhaps a sway back, but he looks more like a 5-year-old steeplechaser than a juvenile.

"He's a pretty special horse," says trainer Stephen McKee. "But he shows us nothing at home. I thought to start with he was just a wet tracker." Now McKee says of the gelding: "He's also good in the wet."

Winning rider Danielle Johnson said riding Xiong Feng was hard case. "He gawks around a lot and he was waiting for the other horses in the home straight."

McKee asked Johnson to ride Xiong Feng positively. "Obviously the barrier [No1] helped and he led easily enough."

Winning rider Danielle Johnson said riding Xiong Feng was hard case. Photo / Doug Sherring
Winning rider Danielle Johnson said riding Xiong Feng was hard case. Photo / Doug Sherring

The favourite, Manolo Blahniq, was trying to get the lead after 170m, but the eventual winner had too much pace.

McKee: "He's a big, strong horse and I think he's still untapped.

"Halfway down I thought he was going to be run down, but his strength kept him in front."

Xiong Feng is owned by an Asian syndicate. The name? "It means 'top of the tree, top of the mountain' or something like that," says McKee.

"But every time I ask an Asian I get a different answer."

McKee says he would like to take Xiong Feng to Sydney for the autumn carnival.

"He can handle the wet very well and you often get that in Sydney through the autumn. I think he would be well suited over there."

The McKee stable's previous record in the Karaka Million is a couple of thirds with O'Marilyn and Raid.

Showmeyamoneyhoney stuck on well for second, just holding out the fast-finishing Kingsman, with Cao-runn and What Choux Want close up.

Trainer does more than Enough to win opener

Anna Jones rode Enough in his first barrier trial and told owner and trainer John Bell: "I'll cry if you take me off this horse." Last night (Sunday) Enough won his second race from just three starts and Jones hasn't been on in any of them.

But there were no tears at Ellerslie, only a hug for Bell after Enough and Vinnie Colgan had torn through the opposition in the first race, the $50,000 Azamour-European Champion 1400, running the 1400m in a lightning 1.22.50.

Bell said his bank manager would be more pleased than himself to receive the winner's $30,000 cheque. "And, no, I will be at Karaka tomorrow, but not to buy this horse's relative." Long term, Bell has ideas of racing Enough in Australia. "But only after he's done a fair bit more here."

• Rose Of Virginia put a hoof up for Auckland Cup consideration with a dominant win in race 2, the $100,000 Windsor Park Karaka Stayers Cup at Ellerslie last evening.
But the City Of Auckland Cup winner Decorah probably stole the show with a strong late run into third under a crushing 60kg.

With no pace in the race Cameron Lammas rode a clever race to keep Rose Of Virginia on the speed ready for when the sprint came on.

Rose Of Virginia established her lead after a fight with pacemaker Seventeen Seventy and produced a win that thrilled trainer Lance Noble. "I bought and trained her dam (Centapin) and this was a good win." Rose Of Virginia received 4.5kg from Decorah when third in the City of Auckland Cup and yesterday carried 53kg - 7kg less, which made Decorah's performance remarkable.

Trudy Thornton had no excuse for the failure of the hot favourite Pondarosa Miss, who finished eighth. "A maiden beat her home for goodness sake."

• The connections of Raghu had to wait 40 minutes before it was confirmed they had won last evening's $250,000 NZB Insurance Karaka 3YO Mile.

This is the race that will carry a million dollar stake in 2018 for graduates of NZ Bloodstock's Karaka Yearling Sale, which starts today.

Before the head/nose/neck finish could be confirmed stewards needed to give a decision on protests against the winner by runner-up It's Ben Again and third-placed Tavago and a separate protest by fourth placed No More Tears against the second horse.

Races were delayed until a decision was made, the Karaka Million put back from 6.46pm to 6.55pm.

• Raghu's trainer Tony Pike also won the next event when Koenigsegg One scored by three and a half lengths.

• Valley Girl took out race 6, the $50,000 Hallmark Stud Mile.

- NZ Herald

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