Ocean Emperor provided a Group Two reward for the patience of Matamata trainer Gary Hennessy.
Ocean Emperor’s connections have always held him in the highest regard, and their faith and patience were rewarded when he stepped up to the big time and upstaged Kawi and Miss Wilson in today’s Gr. 2 Tauranga Stakes.
Matamata trainer Gary Hennessy paid $450,000 to buy the son of Zabeel and the Group One-placed mare Tootsie as a yearling, and after a smart debut win there were plans to tackle major three-year-old features in Australia.
Little has gone to plan since then, with Ocean Emperor plagued by injury setbacks and unsuitable wet tracks. At the end of his four-year-old season he developed a foot abscess that put him on the sidelines for 18 months.
Now six years old, Ocean Emperor showed a glimpse of his talent when he defeated the subsequent winner Heavens Keep at Awapuni earlier this month. However, he was a 20-to-one outsider this afternoon in a weight-for-age field dominated by the proven black-type credentials of Kawi, Miss Wilson, Stolen Dance and Amarula.
But the $100,000 feature proved to be Ocean Emperor’s breakthrough performance. Ridden by his regular pilot Mark Hills, the entire raced in midfield before moving out wide to make his run in the straight.
While Miss Wilson, Amarula and Kawi made their runs closer to the inside, Ocean Emperor rolled home over the top of them and scored by a length and a quarter. Miss Wilson took second by a nose from Kawi, with Amarula another half-head away in fourth.
“It was great to get the Group Two win with him today,” said Hills, who has now ridden Ocean Emperor to four wins and three placings from nine rides.
“We were pretty confident he could run a good race today. He won very nicely last time and he’s improving all the time in this campaign.
“Gary’s just been desperate to get him on a good track, and he’s got that in his last two starts now and been very impressive in both.”
Ocean Emperor is owned by Hennessy in partnership with Andrew Wong and Steve Yan. The trio previously shared ownership of Ocean Park, who won five Group One races including the 2012 Cox Plate.