Two sponsors of today’s Vodafone New Zealand Derby meeting at Ellerslie have joined forces to win the opening race with Maktoum.

Prominent syndicators Go Racing sponsor the fourth race on the card, while trainer Stephen McKee shares in the sponsorship of the Gr. 3 McKee Family Sunline Vase.

McKee trains the Go Racing-owned Maktoum, who picked up the fourth win of his career in an exciting head-bobbing finish to today’s $50,000 The Pond Premium Recruitment 1200.

Given a perfect run just behind the speed by jockey Sam Spratt, Maktoum emerged outside the leaders soon after turning for home.

He quickened well to hit the front halfway up the straight, then was strongly challenged by Santa Catarina along the inside. The pair fought out a desperate last 50 metres, with Maktoum claiming victory by a nose.

McKee had some pre-race concerns over today’s 1200-metre distance, but the strong pace of the race (run in 1:09.80) allayed his fears.

“The pace helped him, and he jumped well and was able to take a closer position than I had expected,” he said. “He possibly knocked up a little bit late in the race, but he really fought when he saw the other horse.

“It’s great for Go Racing, who put a lot into racing through sponsorship and have a few horses running today.

“We might find something better for this horse. We haven’t been scared to take on good races with this horse, especially over longer distances. He ran in the Derby on this day last year.”

Maktoum has now had 12 starts for four wins, one placing and $88,350 in prize-money. He has shown a particular affinity with Ellerslie, winning three times and placing once in eight visits to the Auckland track.

The Makfi entire was bred by Kevin Hickman, who co-bred and part-owns today’s New Zealand Derby second favourite Vernanme.

The McKee-Go Racing combination has made a Derby day impact on more than one occasion in recent years, winning the Gr. 3 Mr Tiz Trophy with Passing Shot in 2015 and going within a whisker of New Zealand Derby glory with What’s The Story a year later.

Today’s first-race win was the ideal start to 2019 Derby day for Spratt, who will partner The Chosen One in the classic later this afternoon.

“It’s a great day and a perfect way to start it,” she said. “He’s an awesome little dude to ride.”

Spratt was also full of praise for the Ellerslie track, which was rated Dead5 yesterday morning after irrigation but has come back to a Good3 this morning.

“It’s spot-on, a beautiful track,” she said.

The big disappointment in the opening race came from favourite One Bakerstreet, who worked forward to lead after 100 metres but ran out of petrol quickly in the straight.

“She had to do too much work early and burned out in the last 100 metres,” jockey Ryan Elliot said.

McKee and Spratt completed an early double when topweight Lucky Sweep scored a gritty win in the third race, the $50,000 Graeme Thomson Jewellery 1600.

“It’s not a bad way to start, but I’m worried I’m using up all my luck early in the day,” Spratt joked.

Lucky Sweep, who jumped as an $11.70 chance, has now won six of his 38 starts and more than $90,000 for a nine-strong ownership group.