Celebrating Trackside Derby Day | Roger's Derby Darlings

25 Feb 2024
Auckland Thoroughbred Racing

Trackside Derby Day is taking place this Saturday 2 March and the feature race is undoubtedly the namesake of the day, the $1m Group 1 Trackside New Zealand Derby.

With the Eagle Technology Avondale Guineas done and dusted last weekend, the form setting race saw Orchestral put in a decisive performance, cementing her status as favourite for the upcoming Derby.

Orchestral, of course, was also the highlight of TAB Karaka Millions evening, when she triumphed in New Zealand’s richest race, the $1.5m TAB Karaka Millions 3YO with ex-pat Kiwi hoop, James McDonald aboard.

Orchestral is trained in partnership by Roger James and Robert Wellwood of Kingsclere Stables and her success echoed that of a different filly in Prowess, also trained by Roger and Rob.

Orchestral taking out the TAB Karaka Millions 3YO in 2024


Roger said of the consecutive wins, “It’s a huge thrill.”

“Anybody who buys a yearling at Karaka would want to say that they could win that race and for us to achieve it two-years in a row with thoroughbreds we’ve selected ourselves is a real testament to our owners who back us with the buying power.”

Roger has a long history in the Derby too, winning the New Zealand edition five times to date and taking out a Derby in Australia too.  His last win in the race was the 2012 edition with a very special filly in Silent Achiever, coincidentally also ridden by James McDonald.

Silent Achiever winning the New Zealand Derby with James McDonald on board. Photo credit: Richard Robinson


When chatting to Roger, we enquired as to whether he’d reached out to James to try and return to their winning ways at the TAB Karaka Millions but the truth was that James actually picked up the phone first, putting his name forward for the ride on the then reasonably unproven Orchestral.

He has, time and time again, proved himself an astute judge and this scenario wasn’t any different with his pick in Orchestral going on to take out the $1.5m feature.

With Silent Achiever and Orchestral having proved themselves on the racetrack, it could be assumed that they are reasonably similar but Roger assures us that’s not the case!

“Well, they are both females and that’s about it!”

Whilst he acknowledges their attitude to work contributes to their ability to go the trip, Roger in comparing the two said, physically, they couldn’t be more different.

“Silent Achiever is fine and feminine and this filly [Orchestral] has more bone and substance.  She’s got a stronger head and is bigger and I’d say not as ‘sweet’ a mover when compared to Silent Achiever.

“They are however good workers and nice to have around the stable.”

When the conversation drifted back to 2023’s winner of the Karaka Millions 3YO, Prowess, and her subsequent success in a different Group 1 feature in the Bonecrusher New Zealand Stakes, Roger confirmed that her different pathway to success at the elite level was due to a feeling she wasn’t going to stay the mile and a half.

“Prowess didn’t give me the feeling at the time that she was going to stay the mile and a half and I think it could have stopped that preparation in it’s tracks had we tried to make her do it.  She went on to perform at the highest level in Australia at her very next starts so I feel strongly we made the right decision there.”

Prowess at home at Kingsclere Stables


Prowess was unexpectedly retired earlier in the 2023/24 season as a 4YO after the concerning diagnosis of laminitis after suffering foot issues.  Roger was happy to report that Prowess, whilst the laminitis is still concerning, is doing reasonably well.

“It [her recovery] is probably going better than imagined than when she first got diagnosed.  It’s a pretty major diagnosis so still a bit up in the air but she’s happy and comfortable.

News that was great to hear by us here at ATR and I’m sure the wider industry.

It’s been almost a year to the day since Prowess’ took out one of the Group 1 features across Barfoot & Thompson Auckland Cup Week and with 2024’s event set to kick off in a few short days, we wanted to learn more about what drew Roger to Orchestral, the current Group 1 NZ Derby favourite, back at the 2022 Karaka Sales.

Orchestral was bought by Roger and Rob from the Haunui Farm Book 1 draft for the not-insignificant price tag of $625,000. With Roger commenting, “We were pretty close to the end of the budget but she was a very physical filly that we didn’t want to miss out on.

Orchestral was in the Haunui Farm draft. Pictured as a yearling.


“She was a filly that was always destined to be best after Christmas as a 3YO and she had the pedigree to back that up.

“You tend to have to pay for those when you want the whole package,”

Mark Chitty, Managing Director of Haunui Farm, agreed with Roger’s assessment.

“Orchestral was a well grown strong bodied Savabeel yearling filly with a fantastic temperament. She was the 2nd to last lot (lot 635) in the 2022 NZB Karaka Book 1 Sale and was admired by many a good judge.

“Given her race record to date she was certainly well worth waiting for at Karaka.”

We’re sure Mark, who also fulfils the deputy chairman position here at ATR, will be cheering his ex-charge on this coming Saturday.

Roger’s record in the Derby, aforementioned in this article, is impressive but should they take out the big one on Saturday, Rob too will be able to add a Derby win to his CV.  Roger said he has always enjoyed mentoring the younger generation and a win would be amazing (for many reasons!) for both of them.

Roger says of Rob, “He’s passionate about the industry and I’ve always enjoyed bringing young people through if they have the attitude to want to learn.

“Rob is a sponge and dedicates the time and effort.  It would be a big day for him if we could win, that’s for certain.”

Roger James and Rob Wellwood at Ellerslie, January 2024


Derby races in general hold a special place in Roger’s heart with the name of his stable, Kingsclere, being Derby related.

The story goes that when Roger was deciding what to name his racing stable he looked to the English Derby for inspiration.

“I thought that was the purest race in England and it’s one I’d love to win one day.  It became apparent that more Derby winners had come out of one stable than any other at that stage and that was Parkhouse Stables.

“It’s got a long history and thought it was maybe too cheeky to name my stables ‘Parkhouse’ so I named it Kingsclere Stables because Parkhouse is in the village of Kingsclere.”

It thus goes without saying that Trackside Derby Day is Roger’s favourite on the ATR calendar and his success in the race is evidence of that too.

“It’s been a race that’s been good to me and what a lot of people won’t realise is that I’ve had three close second placings too, and I term them all unlucky not to win so we’ve got a few scores to settle.

“I don’t like those ‘running seconds’!”

We wish Roger (and the rest of the Kingsclere team) well for Saturday and look forward to seeing where Orchestral’s racing career takes her.  She’ll always have a special place in the hearts of us here at ATR for her performance on a night that will go down in Club history.

To learn more about Barfoot & Thompson Auckland Cup Week (2 and 9 March), click here.



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