A staggering jump in turnover has propelled the TAB Karaka Millions meeting at Ellerslie on Saturday to new heights, with $9.5 million wagered on the meeting – the most on any New Zealand meeting spanning back to at least 1998.
The mammoth figure is $2m more than the previous highest meeting on record, the 2022 New Zealand Trotting Cup meeting ($7.5m) but Saturday’s record total was achieved in just six races, less than half that of the Trotting Cup meeting (13 races).
Roger James and James McDonald teamed up to win the Gr.1 New Zealand Derby (2400m) at Ellerslie in 2012 with Silent Achiever, and the pair reunited at the Auckland venue 12 years later to take out New Zealand’s richest race, the $1.5 million TAB Karaka Millions 3YO (1600m) on Saturday evening.
Fresh off taking out the TAB Karaka Millions 2YO (1200m) with the Stephen Marsh-trained Velocious, McDonald was favoured to secure a Karaka Millions double when he jumped aboard Orchestral in the three-year-old contest for James and training partner Robert Wellwood.
Desert Lightning has spent the majority of his career flying under the radar, but there was no denying his place at the top of the tree in the inaugural $1 million Elsdon Park Aotearoa Classic (1600m) at Ellerslie on Saturday.
The under-rated son of Pride Of Dubai has consistently been among the very best of his generation. He finished fourth in the Gr.1 Sistema Stakes (1200m) as a two-year-old, then returned as a three-year-old to win the Gr.2 Avondale Guineas (2100m) and place in the Gr.1 New Zealand 2000 Guineas (1600m) and the Karaka Million 3YO Classic (1600m).
Ellerslie racegoers got to witness expat Kiwi jockey James McDonald have his first ride back on home soil in several years at the TAB Karaka Millions meeting at Ellerslie on Saturday, and he made an instant impact in front of the sold-out crowd.
Sydney-based McDonald had returned across the Tasman to partner the Stephen Marsh-trained filly Velocious in the TAB Karaka Millions 2YO (1200m) and he showed why he is revered as one of the world’s best.
Group One mare Belclare returned to the peak of her powers on New Zealand racing’s biggest stage on Saturday, scoring a dominant victory in the $500,000 Gr.2 Westbury Classic (1600m) at Ellerslie.
The Per Incanto mare was a triple black-type winner last season, capturing the Gr.3 Canterbury Breeders’ Stakes (1400m) and Listed Wairarapa Breeders’ Stakes (1600m) before landing a Group One triumph with a three-length victory over subsequent elite performer Skew Wiff in the New Zealand Thoroughbred Breeders’ Stakes (1600m) at Pukekohe.
Undefeated three-year-old Crocetti was billed as one of the headline acts of Saturday’s Karaka Millions mega meeting at Ellerslie, and he got the evening off to a perfect start in the opening race on the card.
The Zacinto gelding was a $1.40 favourite for the Gr.3 Cambridge Stud Almanzor Trophy (1200m), bringing in a perfect six-from-six record including the Gr.1 New Zealand 2000 Guineas (1600m), Gr.2 Sarten Memorial (1400m) and Gr.3 Northland Breeders’ Stakes (1200m).
Former Hong Kong galloper Master Fay displayed a touch of real class when he scored a dominant victory in the Gr.2 Brighthill Farm Concorde Handicap (1200m) at Ellerslie.
The Chad Ormsby-trained six year-old son of Deep Field was a $100,000 purchase out of the Highden Park Book 1 Sale draft at Karaka in 2019 by Ormsby as a pinhooking prospect but didn’t make it back to the sales ring and was sold to Hong Kong interests following some impressive trial wins.