IN Racing
Ex-South Island trainer now making his mark in Hawke’s Bay
John Jenkins | March 08, 2024
A happy Danny Champion is all smiles as he welcomes partner Kate Hercock aboard Wish Me Well after win at Tauherenikau last Sunday

New Hawke’s Bay thoroughbred trainer Danny Champion has made an early impact since moving up from the South Island with two wins in the space of four days this week.

Champion produced Wish Me Well to break through for a maiden success at Tauherenikau last Sunday and followed that up by saddling Sid’s Mate for a maiden win at Otaki on Wednesday.

Champion, 52, has been training for 20 years and has produced 136 winners, most of them when in partnership with Kezia Murphy.

That partnership produced Orovela to win the 2013 running of the Listed Canterbury Belle Stakes (1200m) at Riccarton.

He moved north to Hawke’s Bay three months ago and is now the partner of successful jockey Kate Hercock.

Wish Me Well is owned by the Crockett Syndicate, which is managed by Hercock while Sid’s Mate is raced by Hercock’s mother Jeanann in partnership with well known Matamata owner-breeder Gary Hennessy and Doug Stuart.

Wish Me Well is a five-year-old gelding by Zacinto out of the Volksraad mare Volkara and was bred in the South Island. He is a full-brother to Dream Big, who has won six races in Hong Kong and is also a half-brother to Volvik (five wins) and a full-brother to Demand Respect (three wins), who are both trained by Lyn Prendergast at West Melton.

He was having his third race start when he lined up in a 1600m race at Tauhereniikau and Kate Hercock was aboard.

The horse wanted to over-race when in amongst a tightly bunched field in the early stages and didn’t really start to travel well until he got into the clear coming to the home turn. He moved up four-wide to challenge for the lead rounding the bend and took the lead soon after.

He still wanted to race greenly in the straight but a vigorous hands and heels ride from Hercock saw him surge clear in the final stages to win by 1-1/4 lengths.

“It was a pretty good result all round,” a happy Champion said this week.

“Especially with Kate owning the horse as she has done all the work on him. He has needed time and she has had him from the start and has brought him into work, turned him out and brought him back in again.”

Champion said he is confident Wish Me Well will develop into a good 2000-metre horse once he learns to settle properly in his races.

“At the moment he thinks he’s an open sprinter so we’ve got to teach him to settle.”

Champion said he will probably give the horse one or two more starts this campaign and then turn him out for a winter spell.

Sid’s Mate was having his sixth start when he lined up over 1600m at Otaki on Wednesday, with his previous best placing being a second over 1600m at Tauherenikau last month.

Kate Hercock was again the rider and, after the horse began awkwardly from the barrier, she found herself third last on the fence going down the back straight.

They had a wall of horses in front of them passing the 600m peg but then Hercock was able to angle the horse away from the fence and headed for the outside rounding the home turn.

Sid’s Mate ranged up to challenge for the lead, wide out, at the top of the home straight and kept up a sustained finish to work clear over the final stages for a 2-1/4 length win.

Sid’s Mate is by Ocean Park out of the Shamardal mare Spurrendous and was co-bred by Gary Hennessey, who trained the sire Ocean Park to win eight races, five at Group 1 level including the 2012 Cox Plate.

Champion said one of the best horses he trained when based in the South Island was Tropical Punch, a Faltaat mare who only had 14 starts for a win, two seconds, three thirds and two fourths. She finished third in both the Group 3 Easter Cup Stakes (1600m) and Listed Great Easter Stakes (1400m) at Riccarton.

Orovela was also only lightly raced, her 11 starts producing two wins, a second and two thirds.

Champion said a colt foal by Proisir out of Orovela was sold for $300,000 last year to top Australian trainer Mick Price. It has since been named Mighty Cochise and is to have a start from the stable of Mick Price and Michael Kent junior.

Champion said he and Hercock presently have 10 horses in work and are breaking in another seven yearlings.

They have a four-year-old half-sister to Wish Me Well, by War Decree, called Little Miss Muffet who won a 1000m Foxton trial in January.

They also won a 1200m jumpout at Hastings on Thursday of last week with Makkaldee, a five-year-old gelding by Jakkalberry who looks close to another win after a third and a second from his last two starts.


HB Cup meeting now delayed

Following the abandonment of last week’s Hawke’s Bay meeting, mid-way through the eight-race card, the Hastings racing surface is now undergoing a full renovation.

Work commenced last Friday and Hawke’s Bay Racing’s chief executive Aaron Hamilton said it will be ongoing over the coming weeks, with outside consultants involved.

It will mean that the next race meeting planned for the Hastings track, on April 13, will need to be transferred to another racecourse, a venue that has yet to be finalised.

That day was supposed to be the traditional Hawke’s Bay Cup raceday, with the feature races being the Listed $120,000 Hawke’s Bay Cup (2200m), Listed $80,000 City Of Napier Sprint (1200m) and the $55,000 Poverty Bay Cup (1600m).

Hamilton said the plan is to have this meeting transferred to a later date, which also has yet to be finalised.

He added that the club is confident it will have a good track to race on by then.

The Lowland Stakes raceday, on Wednesday of last week, was abandoned after race four.

A heavy shower of rain fell on the track following the running of that race and a delegation of riders approached Stewards regarding the potential safety concern with moisture on what they considered to be a firm racing surface.

A track inspection was undertaken involving jockeys, stewards and the track manager.

Following this inspection a meeting was convened involving stewards, jockeys and club representatives. Whilst this meeting was in progress further heavy rain commenced to fall, with the remainder of the meeting being abandoned due to safety concerns.

As a result of the abandonment, New Zealand Thoroughbred Racing implemented date and programme changes.

The Group 2 $150,000 Little Avondale Lowland Stakes (2000m) and the $40,000 NZB Insurance Three-year-old (1300m), two of the races that were not run at Hastings last week, were transferred to yesterday’s Taupo meeting. 


Blissful win for patient owners

It has been a long time between celebration drinks for the connections of Hastings-trained Blissful Belle but the Belardo mare capped off a string of minor placings with a deserved home track success last week.

The John Bary-trained five-year-old scored a dominant two length win in the $50,000 open 1400m race on what was supposed to be Lowland Stakes Raceday. The meeting was abandoned two races later.

It was Blissful Belle’s third win from 25 starts and her first since she took out a Rating 65 race over 1600m at the same Hawke’s Bay meeting two years ago.

Irish-born jockey Joe Doyle jumped Blissful Belle out quickly from the barrier and put her right in the race, trailing the leaders until the home turn. He then angled her around heels to lodge a challenge and the mare showed a good turn of foot late to race away from the opposition.

Blissful Belle is out of the Elusive City mare Elusive City and was bred by South Island-based Kathryn Picton-Warlow.

She decided to sell the horse as a youngster and Bary’s racing manager Mike Sanders set up a syndicate to buy her. It is a large syndicate, with several Hawke’s Bay people involved as well as some from Australia and other parts of New Zealand.



Atishu back to her best form

Multiple Group 1 winning mare Atishu has claimed a berth in the A$4million All-Star Mile at Caulfield next Saturday following her strong win in last Saturday’s Group 2 A$300,000 Blamey Stakes (1600m) at Flemington.

The Chris Waller-trained daughter of Savabeel was ridden more forward than usual by jockey Blake Shinn and defeated Holymanz by three-quarters of a length, with Ayrton a close up third.

The Group 1 A3million Australian Cup (2000m) at Flemington on March 30 is the main target for Atishu this campaign with her connections unsure whether to take in the All-Star Mile as a lead-up to that race.

“$4million is a lot of money and I will leave it up to Chris and the owners to work out whether we go there (All-Star Mile) or head straight to the Australian Cup,” Waller’s racing manager Charlie Duckworth said.

Atishu won the Group 1 Champions Stakes (2000m) at Flemington last spring following a success in the Group 1 Quen Of The Turf Stakes (1600m) in Sydney in the autumn of last year.

She now boasts a record of 10 wins, six seconds and six thirds from 39 starts and has amassed more than $4.3million in stakemoney.

Atishu races in the familiar colours of the New Zealand-based company Go Racing, who purchased her for $260,000 from the 2019 Karaka yearling sales.

She is raced by a syndicate of 19 people with Dannevirke’s Dean Shuker owning a five per cent share.