It took a record to lower the colours of Baileys Dream in the $1.2 million Christchurch Casino New Zealand Cup.
On a hot, balmy Christchurch day, it took a champion to clip Flashing Red's barely broken-in old mark by 1.4 seconds, and end the race pulling away. Only Changeover could do it, and it came matched with great glee and tears and shouts of joy as the ATC Trot 2006 Syndicate tumbled into the Addington birdcage for their million dollar moments.
Trainer Geoff Small, not a big man, was buried in the human scrum for many minutes as folks from all parts of New Zealand swamped him with hugs and big paw pats. It was a dream for them all, no less for Small who had gone close before in the race, with Changeover last year and Elsu before that. But it didn't start out that way, not this particular start.
The race in fact started six minutes late. Ohoka Rebel was in a mood and wouldn't line up and delayed the start as he did at Oamaru. Held up after looking a chance to go away at one stage, Gotta Go Cullen also lost focus, swung round and buckled a wheel. He was sent to the outside to join Ohoka Rebel, and from there he made a poor start. He wasn't alone in that, Monkey King and Changeover doing the same to a lesser extent, which was familiar for one but strange for the other.
Those that got on with the job were Likmesiah, Report For Duty who soon led, Special Ops, Ohoka Rebel and Waipawa Lad. From midfield Tribute was first on the move, followed by Changeover, Baileys Dream, Gotta Go Cullen and Monkey King. Changeover went on and led at the 1400m, passed by Baileys Dream, which left Monkey King doing it hard.
Baileys Dream was in superb order, ready for the race of his life and running it deceptively fast, and he took Changeover to the passing lane and past it. Once David Butcher gave him a look at those syndicate faces in the distance calling him home, Changeover opened up. He gave Baileys Dream no respect as he glided by to a monster win by nearly two lengths. Baileys Dream did enough to win the race, but driver Todd Mitchell could see all the lycra in the world wasn't in the rescue package when Changeover was into the attack so smartly. Report For Duty was a solid third, after being given a perfect trip, and Special Ops stormed home from five places deep to fourth and $54,130.
Butcher said he was surprised at the speed of the race because he didn't think they were travelling quite as quick as that. "It was the track. They've just made a superb job of it," he said. He wasn't the only one with words of praise for the state of it, because there were others making the same point. But he had other matters on his mind before that. "Missing away for a few strides wasn't a huge worry. I didn't want to be in the early fireworks, but I suppose what was happening earlier got to him a bit in the end. The only thing when you hand up is that who you hand up to doesn't fall back on you later on," he said. With Bailey strumming the high high notes, Butcher had no fear of that. "We had a better run than what we had last year, and he was just cruising at the half."
Butcher, aged 44, said he gave Changeover "a couple" when he got down into the passing lane, not wanting to lose the advantage of it as he'd done in the Sires' Stakes Final two races earlier when Highview Tommy denied Tintin in America full access to it for 50 metres. "And I knew Baileys Dream had to get tired." A man with a comedy touch, Butcher was pleased about the special victory but unsentimental as well. "Horses make their own mark. They do their job; I do mine."
Monkey King, the second favourite, ran last but if a last can be good, this one was. He finished 12.7 lengths from the winner and his time of 3:58.7 was better than the 3:59.1 he ran last year when nosed out by Flashing Red.
The easy part for Rob Carr is to fill his ATC syndicates. The hard part will be to get anywhere near the galloping and still growing success of the 7th one formed, the ATC 2006 Syndicate. It's once bright and now dazzling light is Changeover, winner of the $1.2 million Christchurch Casino NZ Cup at Addington, and worth a gross $650,000 to them. Added to the $1,237,154 already won by the entire, it has become more than pocketmoney for the 74 owners of the 50 syndicate shares.
Carr says it's the ultimate dream. "I need someone to pinch me because I just can't believe it," he said. Carr had plenty to thank when he received the Cup, notably Steve Stockman who he said had the initiative to get the syndicates going. "In the last eleven years, we have won 118 races and our estimated return is $3 million, and I'm sure we can build on it," he said.
Carr was surronded by scenes of jubilation, high-fives and power hugs as the many syndicators welcomed back their heroes after a journey that was quick, decisive and powerful. He explained again the folksy story behind the buying and selling of Changeover. Along with Don Kirkbride, Carr had bred the horse by In The Pocket from Chaangerr and offered the horse for sale at Karaka. He was also buying for the syndicate, at least Small was, and he told Small - presumably to appear neutral - he would do better to buy something other than the one he was selling. "But of course Geoff didn't listen to me. He said he couldn't buy a better horse for the money, which was $28,000."
Small has turned the horse into a goldmine, and it is far from done. He admits, for one thing, that the campaign is going a lot better than it was this time last year. "We were on the back foot before Ashburton; it's not something I told David about at the time. It was a hiccup, and it had an effect on his preparation, but there have been no hold-ups at all this time. It would have been my fault if he hadn't performed well today," he said.
Small didn't give it much thought when he missed away. He just stepped on the wrong foot. I was happy he was back in the field. It's a marathon race. He is a wonderful horse, and horses like that deserve what they do, and what is said about them." While Small said it was a race he wanted to win since seeing Robalan in 1974, he added that it had lost a bit of focus for him. I've sort of let it go a little bit; it's not everything," he said.
It is no surprise Small knows what it takes to win a NZ Cup, having been in the same yard as the grand master Ben Grice, who won successive Cups in the 1940s with Haughty. Small was a long way from being under the Grice eye then, but he was when he worked for Ben's son Des at Prebbleton before he moved to Patumahoe 25 years ago at the age of 21, and is eager to say they taught him a great amount of what he knows now.
And while Small waits for Changeover to point them in the next direction, Carr is on a downhill slope filling the next ATC syndicate - the 11th. "We had difficulty one year selling shares, but what Changeover's done has certainly helped. We have got names for the next one already," he said. With Changeover certain to pass $2m (presently $1,887,154) within the next start or two, Carr will probably have his next one signed and settled soon. The best of them so far have all been trained by Small - Changeover, Awesome Armbro and Tintin In America.
Credit: Mike Grainger writing in HRWeekly 13Nov08
It would need a heap of imagination to think of it in any other way on the strength of his efficient demolition of seven others in the First Sovereign Trust Flying Stakes at Addington last week. He was in front after 500 metres, and with arch rival Gotta Go Cullen parked wide early and then having it hard outside him later, it was pretty much a race as expected. But while Gotta Go Cullen faded from the picture smartly from the 400m, Top Tempo again looked sharp with a bold finish for second, and Montecito held on well after being in the trail, although he was more than three lengths from Changeover when it was over.
Both trainer Geoff Small and driver David Butcher claim there is still some improvement to come, ever though a trial before the Flying Stakes made a big difference. Butcher said he did it easily enough, and was surprised to hear how quick the horse had gone down the back when he considered he got it 'soft'. "I think that will tighten him up just nicely," he said.
He has not written off Gotta Go Cullen as a threat in the Derby. "He had the hardest run of all, and it could be different this week," he said. He concedes the opposition is not as strong as it might have been, but says there is still quality in the ranks. "With Lombo Pocketwatch and Fergiemack not there, it is weaker than it could have been," he said.
Credit: Mike Grainger writing in HRWeekly
If there was possibly any doubt about Changeover's status before the NZ Derby last Friday night, a little over three minutes later there was none left whatsovever as he destroyed his rivals. Not the best field ever assembled for the time honoured event, granted, but Changeover made them look even more 'second rate' with a superlative performance.
The In The Pocket colt worked hard to hold the lead early, kept up a sizzling tempo throughout, and then pulled away at the finish to win with ease by two and a half lengths in 3:11.8. It was victory number 11 in a 20-start career, he's earned over $650,000 in stakes now, and there is not a 3-year-old in Australasia that can get near him - all qualities that befit a champion. But Changeover's trainer Geoff Small isn't quite ready to label him that; not yet anyway. "I hope he is," the typically reserved horseman said. "It's a bit early for me to start saying that though. He's just an all-round nice horse...good around the stable, and good on the track."
Small knows a thing or two about training champions, having also put the finishing touches on Elsu during his illustrious career. But you won't get him to draw comparisons between the two pacers, other than Changeover's achieved more during the early stages of his career. And Small's "hopeful" that one day Changeover might even be able to bring home about the only big-race trophy that is not in the cabinet, a NZ Cup.
Changeover could even tackle the event as early as next season, but not if he goes to Australia for the Breeder's Crown. A start in the latter is still to be decided, and in the meantime there's a possible trip across the Tasman prior to the Harness Jewels. "We'll start in a Prelude of the NSW Derby on April 20, but only if we can fly out of Christchurch," Small said. "That will all be decided this week, if not, we'll just stay in Canterbury and go for the Jewels. He is eligible for the Breeder's Crown, but it is a long season too. We'll let the horse tell us, and if he's still bucking and kicking after the Jewels then we will look at the Crown for sure."
What is scary is Small's opinion of where Changeover will go from here, ability-wise. "He's a bit older and stronger at three than he was at two, and you'd have to assume he'd carry on his merry way. We've got a bit of work to do this season yet though, with other big races to target. But I'd expect him to get even stronger as a 4-year-old."
Friday night's NZ Derby was also a triumph for Small's right-hand man David Butcher. It's an association that first started with the horse All Hart, and it's been formidable ever since. The job that Small does off-track is completed with equally as much aplomb by Butcher on it, yet he's quick to unload the credit. "Geoff's such a good trainer - he's meticulous," Butcher says. "He puts hours and hours in, and he does the numbers. The key is getting the horses 'up' at the right time; and Geoff's super at it."
Butcher was also the raceday pilot behind Elsu of course, and doesn't want to talk about him and Changeover in the same sentence either. "No I don't want to compare them - because they're individuals, and I'd rather keep them apart. Changeover was always going to improve, and you'd like to think that he'd be as dominant next season too because the same horses follow you through. The thing about him is that he does everything easy in himself, and that makes it a little bit harder on the others."
In talking about his pre-race thoughts about the Derby on Friday night, Butcher says he didn't have a 'Plan B' in case Changeover was beaten out of the gate; quite simply, he wanted to lead. "When your horse is that good, you don't leave anything to chance," he said.
Credit: John Robinson writing in HRWeekly 4April07
But last Friday's Group 2 event was an event that Changeover simply had to win. Not only because it was a field lacking both numbers and, to be fair, horses anywhere near the class of Changeover. And not only because it completely fell into the champ's lap: sitting three-deep as the field raced in single file and not even needing to move until the home bend. Because if your the one to beat on Cup Day when you take on the country's best pacers, you would want to trounce a field like that - which he did, in typical Changeover fashion.
And in the end, the Superstars turned into little more than a racenight trial with a $32,355 cheque attached. Understandably, Small bottled a lot of positives from Changeover's latest visit to Addington. "It was the first time he'd had a standing start, and he handled it well," Small said afterwards. "The challenge will be getting away with a group of horses around him." Small says he originally intended to kick Changeover's season in the north before trekking to Christchurch, but upon learning that the maximum handicap his horse could be given in the Superstars was only 20 metres, the schedule changed. "He was pretty close to the trial stage anyway," he said, "the Spring Cup up here was just a week too early for him."
And so the campaign's underway again, even though it's only seven weeks since Changeover won the Breeders' Crown Final across the Tasman. An appearance there was supposed to take this year's NZ Cup out of the equation, but those plans have changed as well. "I suppose we're trying to be 'smarty-bums'," Small confesses. "He had a long year as a 3-year-old. And even though we gave him a couple of easy weeks after coming back from Australia, he probably hasn't had the opportunity to have a break, grow big and strong and come back. But I'm not worried about it at the moment, because the racing doesn't appear to be taking anything out of him. It might catch up with him one day though."
From here Changeover heads to Ashburton for the Flying Stakes, and Small intends to top off his preparation for the big one with a start in the Cup Trial. Happy with where his fitness levels are at, he says it's just a case of keeping Changeover ticking over in the meantime and then giving him a 'tidy-up' run closer to the two events.
Ashburton will be the first real acid test for the In The Pocket entire, and will prove one way or the other whether he'll step up to the top league or not. Judging by early markets, a lot of people think he will. "I've just got to ignore the fact that he's favourite, and focus on Ashburton and then the Cup," Small said. "If I start worrying about that side of things then I'm not doing the horse any favours. But yes it will be a big ask for him. It's a bit like the young fellas playing sport - quite often when they step up to the top grade they get their arse kicked for a while. He's got seven or eight really good ones to beat. And they're strong horses they don't roll over. On the surface it appears that he is up to it - we're not really going to know until we get there."
Credit: John Robinson writing in HRWeekly 10Oct07
There's a good reason why Small's representatives are always worth following whenever he ventures away from hometown Patumahoe though - he doesn't believe in just making up the numbers or giving his owners unnecessary expenses; if a horse comes down to Christchurch, it is a serious chance. And so it proved again.
Changeover was sensational, coming from three-deep along the markers to run down a horses like Gotta Go Cullen. It's true that the latter was 'softened up' somewhat by Days Of Courage siting outside him, and Changeover had everything go his way, but he still must have paced his last half in under 55 seconds to do so and that's lightning quick!
"He is a heck of a nice horse, so it didn't really surprise me," Small said of the performance. "The only worry I had was that it was his first-up run, but he seems to have come through it okay. It did pan out for him though, he followed the speed good and kept at it. That is his real long suit."
Raced by the Auckland Trotting Club's Trot 2006 Syndicate, Changeover was resuming after a four-month spell on Friday but he was pretty ready for it. So was driver David Butcher, who got stopped on numerous occasions during the racemeeting at Cambridge the night before. "Everywhere I walked people were coming up to me and saying,'so, what are you going to do with Changeover?'," Butcher smiled. "That is the joy of having so many owners in the one horse though, they are having a lot of fun. He was always going to be a bit better with time. Because he was quite a big horse at two, but he did a good job all the same," Butcher said.
Changeover had been off the place twice in readiness for his resumption this season, and his trainer was happy enough. "His two trials up here were really good, and then he went down to Christchurch about eight days before the race. I flew down on Monday to work him at Addington, and he felt like he was ticking along quite nicely," Small said. "We opted not to go to Aussie at the end of last season because we thought he just needed more maturity. And he is really suited to Addington because it's a big track, it's where he can show off his staying prowess. At this stage of his career that is where he races best."
Changeover will reside in Canterbury for the meantime, with his main target being the Sires' Stakes Series and the next heat on October 20. Small said he's 'allowed' for another heat at the same course in case he doesn't qualify during the first one he tackles, and after the Sires' Stakes Final on Cup Day his next big mission is the Sales Series race back in Auckland towards the end of the year.
Credit: John Robinson writing in HRWeekly 11Oct06
Margaret came up from Ashburton for the big event, though the race was not particularly clear to her. She has impaired vision and cannot walk. She can't read and can't see television. "I lost it all about five months ago...it's awful," she said. "But I love being part of the syndicate and having the horse to race. It is my only interest, and Rob Carr has been so good. He phones me and tells me what is going on," she said. As it happened, Margaret bought the last share in the syndicate. "Rob told me there were two men interested but they hadn't paid the money. So next morning, I was down at the bank first thing and had the money away that day," she said.
Margaret will be back at Addington this week, but she is not so confident that Changeover will match it with Gotta Go Cullen. Trainer Geoff Small thinks the same as Margaret. "We have got a nice horse who has improved slowly all year, but Gotta Go Cullen is very, very good."
Changeover was bred by Carr and Don Kirkbride, who bought her dam Chaangerr off Bunty Hughes and Alan Meadows after they had bred seven foals. "She didn't come cheap," said Carr, who manages all the ATC Syndicates. "She was in foal to Artsplace, and they kept the foal she had. We sold Changeover for $28,000, and I had gently suggested to the trainers selecting for the syndicate that they avoid buying one that I had bred," he said.
If Small heard him, he didn't listen. "I had always wanted one from that family," he said. "He was early in the Sale, I had a budget and he made it. For Rob, it is a double coup," he said, adding that he was indebted to the usual high standard of help he had received staying with his old school buddy, Jeff Whittaker. By In The Pocket, Changover is expected to develop form that will make him a Classic chance at three.
Carr and Kirkbride have kept a Bettor's Delight filly from Chaangerr which is with Tony Herlihy, they have a weanling filly by Presidential Ball and the mare is in foal to Bettor's Delight,
Christian Warrior came off a nice trail on the outer to earn $33,150 for second, while Mombassa held his ground for third. They outclassed the others.
Credit: Mike Grainger writing in HRWeekly 17May06
Th fact that he wears both caps actually put him in a slightly embarrassing situation to begin with. "We actually give trainers instructions not to buy our horses at the Sales," Carr said. "I didn't know it on the day, but Aria (Small) came up to me later and revealed that Geoff had bought our horse - for the syndicate. "So when I asked Geoff about it he said he couldn't buy a better horse for the money, then offered to look for another one if I wanted." Auckland Trotting Club officials accepted the oversight on this occasion and Changeover joined Calibrator and General George to make up the 2006 Syndicate's trio of horses. He has now won the 50-share group nearly $240,000, with Tuesday's victory his most entralling yet.
Punched out by driver David Butcher to follow Fergiemack forward, Changeover crossed to the parked position but Butcher wasn't happy with that and went again, surging to the front. The colt had done some work to get there, and he suddenly had his main danger perched right in behind him too but Changeover was equal to the task. In the end he held Fergimack comfortably at bay by half a length, stopping the clock at a brilliant 2:20.3 for the 1950m mobile. Representing a mile rate of 1:55.7 Changeover's time is the fastest by any male pacer, any age, over the trip.
"We'd had a relatively soft run to get to be parked," Butcher said afterwards. "The wind was chasing us on that part of the track, so I decided to push on; we were either going to be good enough or not. I had no idea we were going that fast, because he was fair cruising down the back. When we got to the straight and I saw that Tony (Herlihy, Fergiemack) had already pulled out, I thought it was time to make them work a bit. But hey...we've railed, most of the rest had circled, and when you are going that speed the rail is the place to be."
Some 69 people filtered out of the main stand and piled into the birdcage afterwards to welcome back their hero; Carr says he knows that many were there, because he booked all their tickets. It was fanfare galore, and a reminder of how much fun and how successful the Auckland Trotting Club's syndicates have been for the people involved. Carr took over the role of th club's Syndication Manager from Robert Death following the inaugural Trotpower Syndicate, and there has been ATC Trot syndicates every year fron 2000 since. The stakes won from those syndicates is now bordering on a whopping $1.13 million.
"It is amazing that we still struggle to get numbers sometimes," Carr said, disbelievingly. "I think this syndicate's going to have a lot more fun yet, because Changeover will just keep getting better. Plus there is another two horses to look out for...Calibrator's had two starts and gone okay but he's just a bit weak at this stage and has been turned out; and General George qalified, had three months out, and he is just back into work now and looks smart also."
From a personal perspective, Carr and Kirkbride will send four mares to stud this year including Chaangerr, who "at this stage" is booked to Christian Cullen. They have also retained a Bettor's Delight half-sister to the Sires' Stakes winner who is two and in work with Tony Herlihy.
Credit: John Robinson writing in HRWeekly 16Nov06