Johnathan Parkes celebrates a triumphant return to form by star sprinter Start Wondering.
While the connections of Start Wondering have never lost faith in their horse, even they were caught off-guard by the star Wanganui sprinter’s triumph at a wet Te Rapa this afternoon.
The son of Eighth Wonder successfully defended his Group One crown in the 1400-metre BCD Sprint, breaking a win drought dating back to the same race 12 months ago.
Last year’s victory (then called the NRM Sprint) capped a championship season that also included a Gr. 1 Railway Stakes win and a second placing in the Telegraph, but ever since then he has been plagued by wet tracks and bad luck.
“This is so satisfying after the year he’s had,” emotional co-trainer Evan Rayner said. “It’s great when something like this happens when you’re only hopeful going into it.
“We weren’t really expecting this today, with the rain we’ve had. He’s kept hitting terrible tracks right through.
“It really wasn’t his sort of ground today, but we just had no other options for a horse like him – he’s so high in the weights in handicaps. We had to have a go.”
Start Wondering was tripped up by wet tracks in both starts at last year’s Queensland winter carnival, including the infamous heavy track that has kept the gates to Eagle Farm closed ever since.
A downpour on New Year’s Day appeared to wash away his hopes of defending his Railway crown at Ellerslie, but Start Wondering performed above expectations with a close fourth. After a luckless run in the Telegraph at Trentham, he was right back at his brilliant best this afternoon.
“He’s been a special horse to all of our family,” said Rayner, whose daughter and training partner JJ proudly led the seven-year-old back to the winners’ circle to a hero’s welcome.
“My nephew Paul Belsham had him at the beginning of his career, and when the horse came back from Australia he’d given up training so he gave him to us.
“There’s also a bit of a family connection with Steve Gudsell (co-owner with his wife Jo) – his father is married to my sister. This means a lot to us all.”
As usual, Start Wondering was ridden by another Wanganui lad in Johnathan Parkes. He settled in fifth position before mounting his run as the field approached the home turn.
Start Wondering surged to the lead inside the last 300 metres and then withstood a desperate late challenge from Brilliant Shine to win by a head.
Start Wondering is unbeaten in three starts at Te Rapa. In addition to his two Group One sprint titles, he won the Listed Legacy Lodge Sprint in November 2016.
Aside from Lizzie L’Amour’s runaway win in the Gr. 1 Herbie Dyke Stakes, today was dominated by central districts visitors. Awapuni trainer Lisa Latta won the two-year-old event with Secret Allure and the Gr. 2 Sir Tristram Fillies’ Classic with top filly Dijon Bleu.
“They were the three horses on the float, and they’re three winners,” Latta said as she offered her congratulations to Start Wondering’s overjoyed connections.
It was a case of so close, yet so far for premiership leader Sam Collett. The star jockey came up just short of the first Group One win of her career, guiding Packing Eagle to a narrow second placing.
Brilliant Shine, who like Packing Eagle is a former Hong Kong galloper, finished three and a half lengths behind the first pair in third place.
While history repeated in a good way for back-to-back winner Start Wondering, it was the worst kind of déjà vu for the odds-on favourite Kawi.
A tardy beginning proved costly last year as he ran on late to finish fifth, and today was even worse as he missed the break by four lengths. He improved to be in contention approaching the home turn, but weakened down the straight to beat just two rivals.