Shaun McKay brings Ocean Emperor back at the head of the field following the Japan NZ Trophy.
After watching his stable star Ocean Emperor return to Group Two-winning form at his home track this afternoon, Matamata trainer Gary Hennessy is looking much further afield.
Winner of the Gr. 2 Tauranga Stakes in November, the six-year-old Zabeel entire turned a disappointing summer around with a powerful performance in the $100,000 Windsor Park Stud Japan NZ International Trophy.
“He hasn’t had a lot of luck through the summer, but on his day he’s a really good horse,” Hennessy said. “We might look at the Kranji Mile now.”
The S$1.5 million showpiece, a Singapore Group One, will be held on May 26.
Out of Group One-performed mare Tootsie and from the family of last Saturday’s Oaks winner Savvy Coup, Ocean Emperor was a $450,000 yearling purchase at Karaka and has always been held in high regard.
He lived up to that star billing with his Tauranga Stakes defeat of Miss Wilson and Kawi, but he had been unplaced in his four subsequent appearances. The best of those had been just seven days ago, when he stuck on well for a close fourth behind Seventh Up and Cote D’Or at Rotorua.
“He had a few big weights in some of the other races,” Hennessy said. “His run last week was huge.”
Sent out a 26-to-one chance today in a quality field, Ocean Emperor settled in fifth place for apprentice jockey Shaun McKay.
He loomed alongside the front-running Tiptronic in the straight, joined out wide by the in-form central districts raider Travimyfriend. The trio fought an exciting battle, with Ocean Emperor edging clear in the last 75 metres to win by half a length.
Raced by Hennessy in partnership with Andrew Wong and Steve Yan, Ocean Emperor has now won seven of his 22 starts and more than $180,000 in prize-money.
“He’s beaten some good horses in his time,” Hennessy said. “Shaun (McKay) gets on very well with him. He’s a great little guy, and it’s good to have a jockey who rides him in work and is on the same wavelength as you.
“The track had me a little worried today, being on the dead side – I think he kicks better on top of the ground. But he did it well.”
The win was the equal biggest of McKay's career, having also won the 2015 Hawke's Bay Guineas on Amarula, trained by his father Peter.
Tiptronic and Travimyfriend ran top races this afternoon to finish second and third, followed in by Our King Sway, Seventh Up, Nicoletta and Coldplay.
The big disappointments in the race were the Stephen Marsh-trained pair, Thee Auld Floozie and Ruud Not Too. Group One winner Thee Auld Floozie was stuck wide throughout the race and faded in the straight.