The six owners of Special Ops have a very simple way of making decisions when it comes to the mare. They vote, and the majority rules.
Recently the Haymakers Syndicate had the opportunity to send Special Ops to America with Ray Sharpe, and because it was the most important conundrum that the close group of friends had ever been faced with, everyone had to be in favour or she'd be staying home. As it turned out the final count was 4-2 for her to go, hence she didn't, so a couple of them might be feeling smug about the Armbro Operative mare's stylish victory in the $35,000 Konami Canterbury Regional Country Cups Championship at Addington on Saturday night.
In the back of everyone's mind was Special Ops's form, which trainer Ross Rennie says was totally opposite to what it appeared like on paper. "She's just been having so much bad luck," Rennie said. "And that's basically why they pulled the plug - because she's been racing so well." If anything Special Ops was slightly over the odds when returning $5.20 on Saturday, because a fortnight earlier she had sat outside Bondy for the last lap and been beaten a nose by the Cup class pacer; you don't do that without having immense ability.
The misfortune Rennie refers to stems right back to the Methven Cup won by Baileys Dream in October, which Special Ops was scratched from at the last minute. "I had her going as good as this back then," Rennie claims. "But then she got a foot abscess two days out from the race, it was like a big bulge around her off-front hoof. She'd had them before, but usually they come right a couple of days later; this time it took ages." At that stage Special Ops was nominated for the NZ Cup, but she missed all of Cup Week and the mares' race on the last night and didn't resume until the Methven Green Mile in December. Even then bad luck stayed with her, as a clod of dirt hit her in the face and she galloped out of contention.
Special Ops's form since has been consistent without much luck in the running, so the fact that things are finally going her way again has been welcomed by Rennie and the syndicate. "I suppose we could have a look at the Easter Cup, I just don't know yet. She's the sort of horse that loves the 3200 though - I wish there was a race over three miles because I know she'd be right there. We'll target the Rangiora Classic at the end of April, and then tip her out for a spell. She'll definitely be going to stud this year."
Rennie says Special Ops is a hard horse to get along with, a trait she inherited from her late mother Middle Legacy, and for that reason he wanted to make a special mention of his right-hand-man John Kemp. "John's been with me for six or seven years, and drives Special Ops in all her trackwork," he said. "He was at the beach with her this week, then again on Thursday when she had a hit-out at Rangiora, and he gave me the big 'thumbs up' for her race tonight. He's a big part of her success," Rennie said.
Credit: John Robinson writing in HRWeekly 27Mar08
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