Cambridge-based trainer Brendon Hawtin achieved one of his career goals when lightly raced 4-year-old Simply Optimistic scored a decisive victory over 1200m at Royal Randwick on Saturday.
After spending a good part of his youth in Sydney where his father Keith, of Te Awamutu, played an integral role in fellow New Zealander Graeme Rogerson's multi-state training operation, the younger Hawtin had always cherished the thought of returning one day with a horse good enough to compete in the competitive Sydney market.
That goal was fulfilled at the weekend when Simply Optimistic produced a sustained finish in the closing stages for rider Josh Parr to win at his first start since September last year.
Hawtin was on top of the world as he ticked off a career ambition.
"That was an amazing feeling and I'm just so chuffed to get the win and stick it up the Aussies like that," he said.
"It's not often our sprinting types can come over here and win against them so that made it even better for us.
"I've been waiting a long time for a horse good enough to be able to bring over and this guy has proved to be the one.
"I spent three to four years with Rogie over here working in his two-year-old barn and since I've been back in New Zealand, I have always wanted to come back and win races here."
Hawtin firmly believed the Encosta De Lago 4-year-old had the ability to compete at a high level but immaturity issues and a minor injury had combined to restrict the number of starts they could give the horse since he made his debut at Te Rapa back in August 2017.
"He always showed us plenty on the track but he needed to strengthen up and mature before we would see the best of him." Hawtin said.
"He won two of his last three starts as a 3-year-old then won first up at Ruakaka in September last year.
"We had him ready to go for the last day of the Hawke's Bay Spring Carnival but he tweaked a suspensory so we had to pull him out and give him a break again.
"He started back on the water walker in January and has had a long, slow build-up since then.
"We actually had him entered for a race at Ellerslie but he missed a trial at Waipa when they were called off so we decided to have a look at Sydney instead, and here we are.
"When the track came up a Heavy8 on Saturday I thought he would be a big chance but might be feeling the pinch a bit at the end.
"I said to Josh to cuddle him up as long as he could but circumstances played out where he had to make his run a lot earlier than expected.
"It turned out to be a very brave effort by the horse as he was coming to the end of it 100m out, but he never stopped trying."
Hawtin will now look for another Sydney target before sending the horse south to the stable of his good mate Trent Busuttin for the foreseeable future.
"I'd like to think he can win again here but the 1200m will probably be too sharp for him so we'll take a look at what is available over 1400m next," Hawtin said.
"He can have that run and maybe one more but after that he will head to Trent and Natalie (Young) down at Cranbourne for a break.
"He's going to stay over here in Australia now and we hope he might be competitive in and around Melbourne in the spring.
"I do think in 12 months he will be at his best and could be a real Carnival contender so that is the plan for him as it stands."