The win by Hastings-trained The Bandito at Tauranga last Saturday was certainly well deserved after the horse had recorded three consecutive seconds in his three most recent starts.
The Pins 6-year-old led most of the way in the $22,500 Devan Plastics Handicap, a Rating 65 race over 1600m. It was the horse's first success since he took out a 1200m maiden at Waipukurau in December two years ago but he has been runner-up a total of eight times in his 27 starts and has chalked up three third placings.
The John Bary-trained gelding only went down by a head behind the highly regarded Princess Kereru over 1300m at Taupo on September 22 and was beaten by the same margin behind Lady Shabeel over 1400m at Rotorua on October 21. He lined up over 1400m at Trentham on October 28 where he finished second behind the subsequent New Zealand 2000 Guineas winner Embellish.
"He's a horse that has had a few niggling problems in the past but I don't think I've ever seen him better than he is now," Bary's racing manager Mike Sanders said this week.
Promising apprentice jockey Holly Andrew was engaged to ride The Bandito last Saturday and her 2kg allowance brought the weight the horse had to carry down to 57.5kg.
Andrew bounced The Bandito out quickly and they shared the early pace with National Asset and Johnathan Parkes before taking a clear lead with 1000m to run. She then rated the horse well in front before kicking him clear rounding the home turn. He had three lengths on the opposition inside the last 300m and had enough in reserve to hold out the fast-finishing pair of Lady Shabeel and Grand Soleil to win by three-quarters of a length.
The Bandito is owned by Australian Heath Newton, who lives in Wagga Wagga and is a major operator in the Australian meat industry.
He was initially bought for $50,000 at the 2013 premier session of the Karaka yearling sales but then re-offered at that year's Ready-To-Run 2-year-old sale. He was passed in for $75,000, with a reserve of $100,000.
The Bandito is out of the unraced Quest Of Fame mare Reputedly and is a half-brother to Stickpin who was the winner of eight races in Australia, including the Group 3 VRC Chester Manifold Stakes.
Sanders said The Bandito would now head to the Wellington meeting on December 9 where he would contest a Rating 75 race over 1600m. The horse has a great record on the Trentham track, where he has never been further back then fourth in six starts.
Hastings pair star trialists
Two future stars among the Hastings-trained gallopers turned in impressive performances at Tuesday's Foxton trials.
King Louis and Savvy Dreams both produced encouraging performances in preparation for important summer targets.
King Louis only won by a long neck in his 800m heat for 2-year-olds but he could have won by a lot more had rider Dylan Turner asked him for a serious effort.
The Equiano colt settled third, one off the inside rail, in the early stages but moved up easily to the leaders on the home turn and strode clear soon after. He was only under a hands and heels ride over the final stages and won by a long neck. His winning time of 47.93s was almost a second faster than the other 800m heat.
King Louis followed up two impressive performances at Hastings jumpouts with a close debut second in the Listed Wellesley Stakes (1000m) at Trentham on October 28.
"He did a few things wrong in that Trentham race so John wanted to give him another trial and it was exactly what he wanted," Bary's racing manager Mike Sanders said.
King Louis will now contest the Group 2 $100,000 Wakefield Challenge Stakes (1200m) at Trentham on December 9.
He will be part of a strong team Bary will have competing at that Wellington meeting as he will also have Miss Wilson in the Group 1 $200,000 Captain Cook Stakes (1600m), The Bandito in the $30,000 Rating 75 race over 1600m and Smokin' Oak in the $30,000 race for 3-year-olds over 1400m.
Savvy Dreams contested a 1000m catchweight heat at Tuesday's Foxton trials, where she finished a close third. She began quickly and settled perfectly in third place until the home turn. Rider Masa Tanaka kept the Savabeel mare under a firm hold and she was travelling keenly at the finish, to be only a head and half a length from the winner.
Savvy Dreams is trained by Guy Lowry and Grant Cullen and was one of the country's top 3-year-old fillies last season. She won on debut over 1200m at Hastings on New Year's day and progressed quickly to be three times stakes-placed, finishing second in the Group 3 Lowland Stakes (2000m) at Hastings, third in the Group 1 New Zealand Oaks (2400m) at Trentham and fourth in the Group 1 South Australian Derby (2500m) in Adelaide.
She hasn't raced since being unplaced in the South Australian Classic (2500m) at Morphettville on May 20 and is likely to resume in a Rating 75 race over 1200m at Hastings on December 14.
Lowry and Cullen have earmarked the Group 1 $200,000 Thorndon Mile (1600m) at Trentham on January 20 as a long-range summer target for the mare.
Classy colt has Bosson keen
Precocious youngster Al Hasa earned lavish praise from Opie Bosson after a spectacular winning performance at Riccarton last Saturday.
The handsome son of Exceed And Excel turned the Listed Barneswood Farm Welcome Stakes (1000m) into a procession and was hard held by the top jockey at the post, when scoring by six lengths.
"He's a top-class horse, one of the nicest 2-year-olds I've sat on for quite a while," Bosson said.
"He's a Karaka Million horse and maybe even the Golden Slipper."
The colt was offered at Karaka earlier this year by Cambridge Stud and Te Akau principal David Ellis went to $625,000 to secure the first foal out of the Oasis Dream mare Oasis Rose, who finished runner-up behind Sacred Falls in the 2012 Group 1 New Zealand 2000 Guineas (1600m).
Al Hasa was quickly into stride to lead one off the fence and Bosson sat quietly until well into the straight.
"He had a good look around and he's only going to keep improving. Once I gave him a back hander he took off."
Trained by Stephen Autridge and Jamie Richards, Al Hasa had performed well at the trials before he made his debut last month at Ellerslie, where he bucked out of the gates before finishing runner-up.
Versatile sire Pentire dies
New Zealand has lost one of its most successful and undoubtedly versatile stallions with the death last Monday of Rich Hill Stud's Pentire, at the age of 25.
A top-quality racehorse with a Timeform rating of 132 at three and four, Pentire was the dual Group 1 winner of the Irish Champion Stakes (2000m) and the King George VI & Queen Elizabeth Diamond Stakes (2400m) before his retirement in 1997.
Pentire has left 16 individual Group 1 winners, nine of them in Australia, of 33 races, from 1200 to 3200m with his son Mufhasa a 10-time winner at the elite level. His record was further rewarded with two New Zealand Horse of the Year titles.
Xcellent was another outstanding representative with multiple Group 1 victories and a Melbourne Cup placing while Prince Of Penzance sparked Rich Hill celebrations three years ago when he won the 2015 Melbourne Cup.
Pentire's Group 1 roll of honour also includes Xtravagant, now at stud in New South Wales, Zarita, Rangirangdoo, Pantani, Art Success, Penny Gem, Pentane, Recurring, Markus Maximus, Say No More, Chenille, Volatile Mix and Ferlax.
At the time of his death, he was New Zealand's leading active sire of Group 1 winners with only Redoute's Choice and Fastnet Rock boasting more individual Group 1 winners from their Australasian-bred progeny.
Aussie 2-year-old in Karaka race
David Hayes will follow in his late father's footsteps when he chases victory in a feature race for 2-year-olds on New Zealand soil.
The Australian Hall Of Fame trainer has all but confirmed his unbeaten young star Long Leaf will cross the Tasman for a crack at the country's richest race, the Karaka Million (1200m) at Ellerslie on January 27.
"He definitely won't run again before then and as long as he trials well in Sydney in a couple of weeks he'll be there," he said.
Thirty years ago, Hayes' father Colin went close to a Group 1 victory at Awapuni with the Godswalk filly Glorious Way, who was part-owned by the late Robert Sangster.
She finished runner-up in the Manawatu Sires' Produce Stakes (1400m) behind the subsequent Group 1 New Zealand Derby (2400m) winner Satisfy.
"I've had one runner in the Karaka Million, but that was a few years ago now," Hayes said.
That was the Exceed And Excel filly Optimizing, who finished seventh in the 2009 edition won by The Heckler.
Long Leaf was a debut winner over 1000m at Morphettville last month and last Saturday the colt kept his perfect record intact with victory in the Listed Merson Cooper Stakes (1000m) at Sandown.
"He flew the gates, but he's not a sheer speed horse," Hayes said. "He's very good and he'll be much better at 1200 or 1400m.
"He's a beauty this horse and he's always showed a lot. He's a lovely type."
The colt is son of Fastnet Rock and the Stravinsky mare Frustrating, a half-sister to the Group 1 winners Tiger Tees and Terravista and the former Singapore Horse of the Year Super Easy, now standing at Hallmark Stud.
Long Leaf was purchased out of Curraghmore's draft at Karaka earlier this year for $750,000 and is raced by a syndicate that includes a number of Coolmore's leading principals from Australia and Ireland as well as New Zealand's Sir Peter Vela.
Winning weekend for brothers
Werther completed a memorable family double last Sunday with victory in the Group 2 Hong Kong Jockey Club Cup (2000m).
His win at Sha Tin came a day after his younger brother Gobstopper produced a dominant front-running performance to claim the Group 3 New Zealand Cup (3200m) at Riccarton.
"That was a cracking good run considering it was only his second run this season," Werther's trainer John Moore said.
"His fitness was really tested and he will improve from this run.
"We got away with it and now we go to the Hong Kong Cup."
Werther and the Andrew Campbell-trained Gobstopper are sons of Tavistock and the Zabeel mare Bagalollies, who is back in foal to the Cambridge Stud stallion.
Million race on Hasahalo's radar
Stephen McKee is eyeing the Karaka Million Three-year-old Classic (1600m) at Ellerslie on January 27 with his Riccarton heroine Hasahalo.
The Ardmore trainer celebrated Group 1 success with the Savabeel filly last Saturday when she came from the back of the field to win the New Zealand 1000 Guineas (1600m).
"I was confident she was going well enough and she got a good track to show what she can do," McKee said. "Very few horses have the acceleration she has.
"She'll have a race somewhere over Christmas and then work toward the Karaka Mile."