Age has dimmed Robin Butt's athletic prowess somewhat. The West Melton trainer took to the Queen's Drive fence near the birdcage at Addington Raceway with the intent of an Olympic high jumper, but the execution of the leap suggested he was not quite medal material. Butt watched a clinical performance by City Rogue to beat Niobium in the $30,000 International Cargo Express Rising Stars 3-Year-Old Championship from the public stand, and took the short cut to the winner's circle.
City Rogue trailed Niobium and said goodbye with a sharp burst of speed at the 200m that quickly put the result beyond doubt. Within 10 minutes, Butt was more concerned with the run on Niobium who is not in the class of Niobium but certainly more competitive than he showed in this race. "He should have been a bit sharper," Butt told driver Anthony Butt. "By the look of it, I have been a bit light on him this week. He has had four races in four weeks, so perhaps I was too kind on him," he said.
The winner of two races, more than $25,000 and still a maiden, Niobium will race at Kaikoura before the Sires' Stakes Final at the NZ Cup meeting next month. City Rogue, the winner of five of his eight starts, will stick to the trials. As far as type goes, City Rogue looks as good as he is. He has height and a good deep brown colour, strength and conformation, and presence without making an issue of it. Butt says he is an easy horse to work with. "The two of them are great mates. They have always been together," he said.
Over the years, Butt has trained some great horses and many good ones. Two of the best were Miracle Mile winner Locarno and NZ Cup winner Camelot, and they were followed by Anzus, Finest Hour, Wood Chip and others in the middle grades. "City Rogue is up with the best I have trained, and potentially as good as Locarno and Camelot," he said. In recent times, Butt has cut his team down to a size that he can pretty much manage on his own.
David Butt, Robin's son and driver of City Rogue, says he has never driven a 3-year-old as good. "No, nothing in his class," he said. So, now we await with interest...the clash of City Rogue with crack northerner Matai Mackenzie...and the hurdling form of one of the great horsemen.
Credit: Mike Grainger writing in HRWeekly 18Oct00
Don't say a word against City Rogue after he was overhauled in the last stride by Matai Mackenzie in the HIH Insurance Welcome Stakes. After being in front and left clear in the straight, City Rogue was doing little more than racing himself over the last 200 metres.
Near the end, he started to lose focus, and was oblivious to the challenge from Matai Mackenzie coming wide on the track. And while driver David Butt did his best to keep his mind on it, Matai Mackenzie had more purpose to his finish and won the Group 2 by a nose. "He wanders round a bit by himself. I was frightened to go for him too soon," he said. Lack of experience and losing his competition so soon was the difference between first and second, but a fair reflection on where they stood amongst the others; Niobium, the third horse home and City Rogue's stablemate, was more than four lengths behind them.
Matai Mackenzie is one of the much publicised and highly successful horses bought as a yearling and raced by the ATC Trot 2000 Syndicate. He is trained by Barry Purdon who selected him at Karaka and made a 2-year-old of him when every feature of him suggested he would not be available until he was three. "He was big as a yearling and right from the start he came along nicely. He could really scoot a good half. I cut him when he started growing quite a bit and I have always gone quietly with him. He has just got better and better," he said.
In just six starts, Matai Mackenzie has topped $100,000 and with two bigger races than the Welcome coming up this month, it is quite possible he could double his earnings before the winter. Purdon said his only concern had been with a heel infection that had affected all his feet. "It was quite bad and Katrina (Purdon) bathed them twice a day until they came right," He said. At 16 hands, Matai Mackenzie is perhaps the tallest 2-year-old Purdon has raced and the great Chokin is the only one he said who would fit he same category. "I have spaced his races and he has enjoyed it. Being so tall and lean, he doesn't carry a lot of weight, so I don't work him too hard," he said.
Matai Mackenzie is by Jaguar Spur, who has been relatively inconspicuous on the siring lists, met with little patronage at the stud in Australia and is likely to return here next season. Purdon has had a few of them, and one of them is a filly who he thinks is okay.
One of the syndicates organised by the ATC also has a Soky's Atom filly from Mary Morris, Purdon bought for them at Christchurch for $14,000.
Of the 50 or so in the syndicate which races Matai Mackenzie, six or seven were at Addington to see him, but 30 are expected for his race on May 5 and another 30 the following week. Syndicate member Steve Stockman said efficient management of the syndicate was a key to its success. "When the bank gets up to $10,000, the members automatically get a payment of $200. The last cheque they were paid was $800. They each get a monthly newsletter of three or four pages, there is a weekly update and an 0800 number, and the latest syndicates are seventy per cent full," he said.
Credit: Mike Grainger writing in HRWeekly 27Apr00
John Hay had a bit to talk about at Addington on Tuesday. Prior to the NRM Sires' Stakes Final he had a quick chat to Franco Heir's owner Bob Proberts; just past the finish line he turned to acknowledge Tony Herlihy and Young Rufus alongside him, and returning to the birdcage he looked skywards and said a few silent words.
So just what did he have to say? "Bob came down to the stall before the race, asking me how Franco Heir would go. I said that he felt as good as Franco Enforce did the day he won the Sires' Stakes Final, and that Franco Heir was a better stayer," Hay reiterated. "I told Tony how much of a thrill it was to win the race - but only after we had crossed the line ahead of him. And then to Wayne I said 'that's for you'." On the track, Franco Heir had done all the talking for him.
Settling second last from his wide draw, the Holmes Hanover gelding was asked to move as the field wheeled around the Showgrounds bend, and he zoomed up to join pacemaker City Rogue who had done a power of work to get there. "I was waiting for Tony to go on Young Rufus; I thought he was the one to beat," Hay said. "He ended up following us around, then I think he got a bit held up when Niobium shifted into the three-wide line. I wanted to get up to the death seat with 800 metres to go, that was the plan; they had gone really hard early too, which played into my blokes hands. I honestly wasn't happy with him up until about six days ago. After arriving from Australiahe had got a cold and had a nasal discharge, but since that trial at Rangiora last week he has improved out of sight. His coat had picked up, everything had picked up; he worked unreal at the weekend. But it was hard to know how much work to put into him after he came back from Australia and he's still a big dummy so he should improve yet."
For Franco Heir's Australian owner, simply having a horse like him is a dream come true. Proberts first learnt about the 3-year-old from a newspaper article after his first-up win at Ashburton. He asked his trainer Noel Alexander to make inquiries, who in turn rang the horses connections in New Zealand, but the original message they got back was that Franco Heir was not for sale. "I remember thinking...'a kiwi horse that is not for sale? It must be a good one'," Proberts said. "I was hell bent on getting him after that. I have been to yearling sales in Sydney, Victoria and New Zealand and bought 12 horses in the past year; I wanted a good one, but suddenly I didn't want to wait. We started at a lot lower price than what he eventually sold for, but I can acknowledge now that he was a cheap horse," Proberts said.
Franco Heir is raced by the Dalcom Corporation Ltd, a finance and investment company that Proberts is the Managing Director. The 54-year-old and his "better half" Di own a 130 acre horse farm in a town called Coldstream in the Yarra Valley, and just up the road is another 100 acre property that is in the process of becoming their first vineyard.
Credit: John Robinson writing in HRWeekly 16Nov00
Looking back, David Butt knows he could not have done it better. He gave City Rogue every possible chance to win the $100,000 Smokefree New Zealand Derby, and he ran second. He should have won. And he would have had there not been a man named Mark Purdon in the race.
Butt was visiting Purdon country when he set off to win the Derby at Addington. The history of the race, in which Purdon has been the star player in recent years, might have been far from his mind when he led out and then eased when Purdon and Young Rufus took the lead with 2000m to run. On the corner, when he sent City Rogue into the passing lane, it was still not an issue. "I'd done everything right," he said. And he had.
For the first time in many starts, City Rogue had been given a good draw and a good run. He deserved to win a good race, and he was looking it in the face. It appeared a safe prediction that with a trip like this he would gather in Young Rufus, whose form and well-being had been under scrutiny. There was none of this fear in the City Rogue camp; they had been bullish on his health and form all week. Indeed, for much of the trip to the finish, City Rogue narrowed the gap but not with the resolve and hard crunch that was needed. Butt was to discover very quickly that this was not the Young Rufus of the lead-up a week before. This was not the same performer who had run a meek eigth behind Country Ways and six places back from City Rogue, and whose class was on notice. In a few days, Purdon had turned him into a tiger.
Butt knew before most that the 'Derby Man' was back in town. "I knew some way out that I wasn't getting to him like I should," he said. And neither he did, for Young Rufus won without a strain on the eye in the end, though the margin was just a half-head. Country Ways ran the race of a good horse, third, challenging four-wide on the corner.
The Purdon legacy on the Derby is almost a copyright. He has won the classic with Mark Roy (1993), Il Vicolo (1995), The Court Owl (1996) and Bogan Fella (1997). Mark Roy was by Soky's Atom, and so is Young Rufus, who is owned by the Let's Party Syndicate, a group of six members from Australia and New Zealand. A brother to the Free-For-All pacer Captain Rufus, Young Rufus has always been rated highly by Purdon. He was on fire with some brilliant races at the Cup meeting in November, but did not return well for his racing after a break. "He has always shown a lot of potential. We had him checked out on the Tuesday before the race and soundness-wise he was fine. The next day I got Fred Fletcher to go over him, and he found him to be quite sore at the base of the neck, and also in the muscular area in his hind quarters. He felt good when I worked him on the Friday, and I just felt all week that he was turning the corner," he said.
In spite of wearing a pole, Young Rufus still lost ground on the bends, especially the one near the 1000m on the last lap. When called up for real determination in the straight, Young Rufus was ready for it.
Credit: Mike Grainger writing in HRNZ Weekly