Racing: Staying ranks look better

By Mike Dillon

Chocante proves too strong for El Pistola in the Counties  Cup at Pukekohe on Saturday. Photo / Trish Dunell
Chocante proves too strong for El Pistola in the Counties Cup at Pukekohe on Saturday. Photo / Trish Dunell

Australian-bred stayers, not quite extinct, but nearly.

Our stayers, beginning to look thin on the ground a year or so back, are suddenly blossoming.

A wonderful example is Chocante, stylish winner of Saturday's Counties Cup at just his 10th race start.

If this was a case of the green, young, new boy on the block, it certainly didn't look like it. So dominant was the 4-year-old son of Shocking he sat three wide close to the pace and, despite covering more ground than anything else in the race, he burst clear in the home straight under Craig Grylls.

"He seems like a pretty progressive horse, doesn't he?" said trainer Stephen Marsh in a master understatement.

This was clever placing of an emerging star. Because our staying ranks have for a few years been relatively thin, it's possible to get to the top end of the handicap without earning too much money.

A moderate open handicap win and a couple of minor placings in races like Saturday's will almost always get you there. The emerging Get That Jive copped 57.5kg in the Counties Cup after two wins from 11 starts.

Stephen Marsh and his owners took a calculated risk in throwing the three-win runner in the deep end at the minimum weight of 53kg, a major contributing factor in Chocante picking up nearly double the $35,000 he had already banked.

The sudden emergence of the likes of Chocante and Saturday's rivals Megablast, Chenille, Get That Jive and Cheeky Boy, along with Pecorus, is great news for breeders and owners of bloodlined-mares with apparent stamina.

Australians, mesmerised by races like the Magic Millions and Golden Slipper, have bred speed to speed for recent decades and they now own the world's best sprinters. The flip of that coin is that 1200m is now too far for some of them - unthinkable two decades back - and 3200m is heart attack material.

A look down the Flemington home straight is enough to send some Aussie-breds into a nervous sweat.

Chocante's sire, Melbourne Cup winner Shocking, would not have been commercial in Australia despite having won over 1300m before stepping up in distance and stands at Matamata's Rich Hill Stud. His stock have been immediately successful, some of them even precocious, although the best of them will almost certainly be stamina inclined.

To emphasise the Australian plight, Ballarat conducted the main Victorian meeting on Saturday. The A$300,000 Ballarat Cup was won by the Hayes/Dabernig-trained English import Pilote D'Essai in a canter and the only other race beyond 1600m on the day, over 2300m, was won by another European, the Darren Weir-prepared Shikarpour.

The astute Chris Waller was one of the first to wake up to buying European stayers for Australia and also the first to twig a few years later that the price of those horses had gone way beyond the value-for-money level. It was estimated the right type of horse had trebled in price in four to five years and Waller turned to New Zealand to Zabeel and the likes.

With established greats Savabeel, O'Reilly (damsire of Chocante) and Pentire, along with hundreds by new star Tavistock still to come, New Zealand is well placed to produced the stayers of the future for this part of the world. Doubtless that was a factor in the magnificent prices some of the top-end horses made at the New Zealand Bloodstock Ready To Run sale at Karaka last week.

We have a raft of less exposed stallions to come like Ocean Park, Redwood, Pour Moi, Roc de Cambes, Dalghar, Jimmy Choux, Rip Van Winkle and Mastercraftsman, all of whom will add further to New Zealand's reputation to produce tough and talented stayers. (Studmasters left off the list please take no offence).

It is no surprise Chocante has a touch of class; his third dam Red Chiffon was a good staying mare for Paddy Busuttin, who won 11 races and a family holiday in Hawaii short of half a million dollars.

Owners Mark Freeman and David Price, who bred Saturday's winner, were yesterday mulling over their options with Marsh.

"A race like the Manawatu Cup would probably suit him. He's got a nomination for the Auckland Cup, but there is a bit to think through before that's on his radar this time," said Marsh.

One of those thoughts will be the lack of stamina across the Tasman.

"Yes, Sydney in the autumn is inviting."

Light at end of tunnel

• Decline of NZ-bred stayers might have been arrested.

• Young sires are beginning to leave their marks on our feature races.

• Chocante's win at Pukekohe on Saturday is a boost for Melbourne Cup winner Shocking.

- NZ Herald

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