Phil and Glenys Kennard share a light moment after Ultimate Sniper’s Derby win. Photo: Trish Dunell.
They say a week is a long time in racing and Christchurch owners Phil and Glenys Kennard have well and truly given weight to that over the past seven days.
Their brilliant three-year-old pacer, Ultimate Sniper, took out the $250,000 Woodlands Northern Derby at Alexandra Park on Friday night in a thrilling finish.
It came six days after they won the calendar’s richest race, the A$1 Million Miracle Mile in Sydney with Spankem.
But in the week between those wins, they had to call time on the career of their one-time budding superstar, and Ultimate Sniper’s older brother, Ultimate Machete.
And they had to scratch second-stringer Another Masterpiece from the Derby due to illness.
Regarding Ultimate Machete, who was the Three and Four-Year-Old of the Year the past two seasons, he reached the bottom of a slippery slope that started 15 months ago in Perth.
He won two Group 1 four-year-old features over there, shortly after winning the New Zealand Free For All at Addington on Show Day of 2017.
But he was injured soon after and didn’t race again until October.
He was the favourite for the New Zealand Cup but had to be withdrawn just a week before the race.
A further setback and then two final starts came and went, the last at Auckland last week.
But a suspensory injury finally signaled the end for the sizeable entire and time was called on his career after just 32 starts.
“It’s been incredibly frustrating with him, especially the last two months,” said Phil Kennard.
“Having to scratch the favourite seven days out from the Trotting Cup, it wasn’t easy.
“Luckily we had Thefixer to step in and do the job.”
There was a point there where anyone you talked to would have declared Ultimate Machete as the heir apparent, the next superstar of the sport.
And Kennard said he’d be lying if he didn’t think the same way.
“The night we got the Group 1 double in Perth with him, and Lazarus winning the Inter Dominion.
“It was a pretty special night for us all and we were all looking to the future with him.”
Fast-forward and he’s now the subject of what Kennard calls “a bit of interest” from various studs.
In fact, it could be his little brother that is the next king.
He sprinted home in 54.9 for co-trainer Natalie Rasmussen to record his third feature win, and second Group 1, at just his eighth start, all this season.
Kennard freely admits they are rather fortuitous to even own Ultimate Sniper as, at $85,000, he was pricier than they are usually comfortable paying in the sale ring.
“We’ve been a little bit lucky actually, owning this horse, because when you’ve got such a good horse already in Ultimate Machete, we ummed and ahhed a lot at the sales about whether we were going to back up and buy the brother.
“But, fortunately, we did and everybody hoped on board and away we went.
“We always set budgets, all the way along, between Mark (Purdon) and us, and we try to keep it realistic.
But sometimes you have to be flexible, like then, and this year, where we had to change very quickly because we got a couple of bloody noses early on in Auckland.
“Glenys and I sign for them, but we’re actually spending other people’s money and we have to remain mindful of that.”
The group that race Ultimate Sniper includes Australian Kevin Riseley, Phil and Margaret Creighton from Dunedin, and Gavin Douglas, from Ashburton.
They call themselves the ‘Major Mark Syndicate’ in honour of the former Two-Year-Old of the Year that was the first horse they bought together, a decade ago.
“We’ve had Major Mark, Ultimate Machete, Follow The Stars, Fly Like An Eagle, Border Control and now Ultimate Sniper,” said Kennard.
That’s six Group 1 winners, all purchased as yearlings – surely a testament to the expert judgements of those involved.
But a pattern has developed in that those that raced extensively at two – Major Mark, Ultimate Machete and Follow The Stars – eventually trailed off or break down as older horses.
So, patience is now a big part of their approach to ownership.
“It takes a lot of patience with the horses, and it also requires good owners who are prepared to listen to what the trainers tell us.
“We’ve got a nice two-year-old there, Flying Even Bettor, and Mark was tossing up whether to push on or turn him out.
“Our view was, if you’ve got to think about it, then put him out.
“Glenys and I often talk about Machete and whether we should have sent him to the paddock as a two-year-old.
“But he was the second-best colt of his year and we raced him on, but we wonder whether that has hurt him in the long run more than we realised.”
The win of Spankem was a complete surprise, given the horse was slated to be brought home at the end of January after a two-month long Victorian campaign.
But the flights weren’t matching up and the horse was going to be there a while longer, and a cheeky bike ride change the course of racing history.
“I went out for a ride on my bike and had a good think about it,” said Kennard.
“And it struck me that there was no reason why the horse couldn’t target the Bohemia Crystal (Group 1, A$100,000) on Miracle Mile night.
“So, Glenys rung Mark and put it to him and he agreed it was feasible.
“To win the Miracle Mile lead-up, which was basically a race to get him fit for the next week, was a shock, but we took the opportunity to have a second runner with both hands.”
Of course, as the record will show forever, Spankem would win the Miracle Mile in 1.47.7, ultimately thanks to Kennard’s bike ride.
“To go and line-up with Spankem and Thefixer in the Miracle Mile and run the quinella, then win the Derby tonight, it’s been a real surprise.
“If you’d told us that it would happen 21 days ago, I would have laughed at you.
“It’s a surreal time.
“And tonight, too, is extra special because it’s our wedding anniversary, and our daughter’s wedding anniversary.
“It’s a big day in our house.”