Benny Hill is quietly changing the emphasis of his operation. He says a new training regime is being developed, with the focus on two and 3-year-olds.
He has not raced a 2-year-old this season, resisting the temptation to try an outstanding prospect of that age by Christian Cullen. "He's a horse called Beach Bunny and he's from a Fake Left mare (PK Bunny), and just went woosh when he qualified at Rangiora a week ago. He could be anything, and if we were offered $100,000 we wouldn't take it."
This is a sign of a change in direction for Hill and Cavalla Bloodstock, because next season they will be racing juveniles that they haven't in the past. "We're going to up the ante, and ask more of our young horses. This season we've tried eleven 2-year-olds, but we've also broken in twenty-four yearlings, and while some of them have gone, there will be a lot more available to be tried earlier."
Beach Bunny could have started the process, but Hill has been protective and put him out. He has enough on his plate in the meantime, with Saturday winners Carabella, Power Of Tara and Ultimate Player back at Addington on Friday night, along with Timeless Perfection. He will have three the following week, and then onto the Jewels with Carabella.
Hill made a clean sweep with his three runners on Premier raceday at Addington last Saturday, with Carabella leading the charge by setting a New Zealand record in the $140,000 Nevele R Fillies Series. She ran 2:19.7, which was a handsome improvement on the old mark of 2:21.3 held by Joyfuljoy. Tatijana Bromac, a smart filly, made a sharp sprint from the back for second, and Donegal Delight was a tough third after doing it hard in the open for a lap. Still, nothing could match Carabella, who was full of beans in the barn. "I hadn't seen her so lively before the race," said driver Ricky May, "and she was so keen in the prelim."
Hill knew she was very fresh. "She hadn't raced for six weeks, and I'd given her only the one trial. She'd been going through a growing period, and it was really happening when she ran second at Rangiora. She was a little sore, in areas where gallopers would call it shin soreness. Don't get me wrong, she was there and right to race. But it has settled down since then, and she is just getting that much stronger. And she is going to be better for the run and tighter for the Oaks," said Hill.
As well as May knows Carabella, he was still astonished she found the gas to put a few lengths on the pack at the corner. "She had been worked on a bit, and I thought she might battle when we turned in, but away she went and then knocked off near the end
Credit: Mike Grainger writing in HRWeekly 18May2011
Carabella's winning crusade continued at Addington last Friday. She came from a tricky marble for an easy win in the Group 1 Nevele R - Wayne Francis Memorial New Zealand Oaks. The best of the opposition were Donegal Delight and Miss Moonlite, but they were unable to make a competition of it.
Carabella won by more than two lengths, with driver Ricky May declaring to Dexter Dunn on pulling up she was the best horse he'd driven. If he's firm on that point, it puts such remarkable horses as Mainland Banner, Iraklis, Monkey King, Inky Lord and Christian Cullen in the shade.
After the race, there were some memorable claims made, besides the one of May's. Robert Famularo, the principal of Cavalla Bloodstock, said: "She's our own Black Caviar and we love her. She is a champion and she brings a tear to my eye." Her trainer Benny Hill said: "I thought it would be tough for her, from that draw, but Ricky's got another eleven out of ten for the drive."
May took her back off the gate and improved before the last lap. He took cover briefly and then was out and in the clear from the 800m. He sent Carabella ahead and past the tiring Miss Elsie before the turn, and left the others to fight for the minors.
As expected, Carabella was tighter this week than she was when winning the week before. "She had the night in the paddock last Saturday, Sunday off and ran a quiet mile and a half on the Wednesday," Hill said. "It's an exciting occasion and she gives us a lot of pride. She is something special and there is a lot of attachment from all of us." May said he knew she would be better for the Oaks. "She'll go whenever you want."
Famularo says Hill is the kingpin behind the success and general contentment among the staff and horses. "Everyone feeds off Benny," he says. He is a good leader and involves everyone. We have some great people with us, and it wouldn't be the same fun without them. And we really want to keep the story going. Her buddy is Monkey King. He's her best mate...and she's a Diva, and she knows it."
While the short-term target is the Harness Jewels, there are greater challenges on the horizon. "I don't think we will go to Australia for the Winter, but I know the boys have talked about the New Zealand Cup when she's five."
Andress Blue Chip, the dam of Carabella, was served by Christian Cullen this season.
Credit: Mike Grainger writing in HRWeekly 25May2011