Hawke's Bay could have a runner in one of the world's richest horse races after Hastings-trained Callsign Mav won the Hawke's Bay Spring Racing Carnival's opening-day feature for a second year in a row.
But regardless of the size of the carrot, the winner of Saturday's $220,000, 1400m Gr1-classified Tarzino Trophy will have already had its last race in New Zealand and be in the hands of a new trainer by the time the $5.2 million W S Cox Plate goes around at Melbourne's Moonee Valley racecourse on October 23.
Hastings trainer John Bary, who holds a 10 per cent share and saw the five-year-old gelding win in the golden colours most famed by Sasanof's win in the 1916 Melbourne Cup and "in the family" 140 years, confirmed to Hawke's Bay Today it's last race in New Zealand will be on October 2 in Hastings, in the 1600m Windsor Park Plate, also with stakes totalling $220,000.
The $4500 for Cox Plate second acceptance, which closed on Tuesday, September 21, is paid and the flight's booked for October 13, the only questions to be answered being about whether Callsign Mav will step up to the Cox distance of 2040 metres or look for something more amenable at the time.
Simply, Bary, who trained Jimmy Choux to run second in the Cox Plate in 2011 and win career stakes of almost $3 million, says the latest stable star has done almost all he can in New Zealand - he is, after all, 90 per cent owned by Australians, and the money's better on the western side of the Tasman.
That includes the 100-1 odds at which he put a few on last week for a Callsign Mav Cox Plate win, which had come down a bit to 67-1 by the end of the weekend, and are expected to narrow a little more after the declaration of the second acceptances.
The horse has itself seen some good odds, at 81-1 when it surprised in the Tarzino Trophy race last year, but it was much different on Saturday when it started favourite, after the sudden scratching and retirement of expected favourite Avantage, winner of nine Gr.1 races.
Banking $126,500 of Saturday's purse, Callsign Mav has now claimed stakes of $439,550 with six wins and six times runner-up in 18 starts – not bad value for a horse bought for just $3000 at a sale in 2017.
The Cox Plate carries a winning stake of A$3 million, but even finishing second would near double the prior earnings of the galloper from Hastings.
Bary, who got to have his silks on the horse in what was effectively a toss-up among the various owners after former syndicate manager Jeremy Cross sold his interest, believes Callsign Mav has had a great preparation for the season, has got the stamina, he's pulled up well after Saturday's race and he'll improve "a couple of lengths" going into the next start trying to nail a metric mile in which he was third last year to champion Melody Belle and Avantage.
He reckons it's not a lot different to preparing the All Blacks, getting the ultimate fitness for the package, to which Callsign Mav had added about 25kg since last year.
A tougher tendency was shown in finishing third in its only attempt at the middle distances, the 2000m Awapuni Gold Cup in April, and three trials wins since early August.
The Spring Carnival Triple Crown, with its last leg matching the distance of the Cox Plate, was put in place to prepare New Zealand's best horses for the big races in Australia.
Callsign Mav was the only Hawke's Bay-trained runner in Saturday's 10 races, but there was another winner in the Cancer Society, which, with its Daffodil Day nationwide street appeal cancelled last month because of the pandemic lockdown, was still topped up with over $13,000 from the racing, which was otherwise hit heavily by the crowd limitations of the continuing level 2 alert.
Three winners - Nod of the Head in race 3, Chase in race 4, and Bellaconte in the $80,000 three-year-old fillies classic the Gold Trail Stakes - each wore the day's Daffodil Day colours and each landed a $2000 donation to the appeal from the TAB.
The Punters Club established throughout the country by the TAB drew about $70,000 of investments for betting managed on course on their behalf, with 9.5 per cent of the revenue also going to the cause.
Hawke's Bay Racing is expecting the carnival's second day to be also run with the crowd in level 2, with hopes of being able to accommodate a near-sellout crowd for the last day, on October 16.