Splurge (Michael McNab) was too strong in the Manawatu Challenge Stakes.
A commanding win by Splurge in today’s Gr. 2 Kamada Park Manawatu Challenge Stakes at Awapuni completed a Te Akau 20 for the calendar year.
Trainers Stephen Autridge and Jamie Richards came into today’s meeting with 19 black-type wins for 2017, six of them at Group One level courtesy of Gingernuts (three), Hall Of Fame, Melody Belle and Embellish. All of those 19 stakes winners were purchased by Te Akau principal David Ellis.
That number rose to 20 this afternoon with another Ellis-bought star, the $500,000 Karaka yearling Splurge, finishing over the top of his six rivals in the weight-for-age sprint feature.
The scratching of seven-time Group One winner Kawi left Splurge the hot favourite for the 1400-metre race, and he lived right up to expectations. Michael McNab slotted the gelding into fourth place behind a strong early pace set by the three-year-old Hard Merchandize and the local galloper Salamanca.
Splurge loomed ominously on the outside as the field turned for home, and when McNab turned him loose he streaked past Hard Merchandize and took a clear lead. The 18-race winner Scapolo unwound late with a big finish, but Splurge still had three-quarters of a length up his sleeve at the finish.
“I was a bit surprised how they were really positive in front early on and just kept going at that same clip,” McNab said. “I got a drag everywhere I wanted to go. When I asked him to let rip, gee he let rip.
“The horse really deserves it, he’s a beautiful horse.”
The win completed a double for the day for the Autridge/Richards team and McNab, who won the two-year-old race with the highly impressive Savabeel gelding Sword Of Osman.
In Savabeel’s case it was a treble, with Clarify then winning the Manawatu Cup and Splurge the Challenge Stakes.
The stable’s 20th stakes win for 2017 must rank among the most satisfying. Splurge was a rising star in sprinting ranks last season, winning five of his six starts including the Gr. 3 Darley Plate. But then he lost his way during the Queensland winter carnival, badly beaten in two starts, and it has taken more than six months to bring him back to winning form.
There were good signs with his last-start second in the Gr. 3 Eagle Technology Stakes at Ellerslie, beaten in the last couple of strides by a huge finishing burst from Hiflyer, and today he broke through.
“We’re very pleased,” Richards said. “Last season we thought he was a pretty promising sprinter, but he just went off the boil a bit in Brisbane.
“Up to a mile at Ellerslie last start he went a nice race behind a very good horse, and today was his day.
“He’s not an easy horse to train, so we have to give a big thanks to our team at home. They’ve done a great job to get him right today. He can be very hard to deal with, so we’ve got to think outside the square. He seems to enjoy a bit of jumping and things like that.
“David bought the horse as a stallion prospect – unfortunately he didn’t get there, but now you’d say he’s a big chance to pick up some prize-money to make up for that.
“It’s likely he’ll go to the Thorndon next month (January 20). The big track at Trentham will suit him, and if he can race as tractably as he did today, he’ll be a big chance there.”