Excitement machine Te Akau Shark (Rip Van Winkle) sent out an ominous warning to his Australian rivals as he finally got a deserved Group One prize when taking out the BCD Group Sprint (1400m) with a scintillating performance.
The showy chestnut was making his first raceday appearance since finishing a meritorious third behind Lys Gracieux (Heart's Cry) in the Gr.1 Cox Plate (2040m) at Moonee Valley in November.
An eye-catching gallop between races on Karaka Million night at Ellerslie was preceded by a handy performance behind gun three-year-old Catalyst (Darci Brahma) at the Matamata trials and saw the Rip Van Winkle five-year-old installed an overwhelming $1.40 favourite in a small but select field at Te Rapa.
His large ownership group and thousands of supporters had their hearts in their mouths midway through Saturday’s contest as the free-going The Mitigator (Master Of Design) had his rivals struggling to make up ground as he went for glory at the 600m.
A conservative six lengths adrift of The Mitigator with less than 300m to run, rider Opie Bosson didn’t panic as he set the Shark alight. With a devastating turn of foot Te Akau Shark circled then swooped on his rival as he dashed past to score by two lengths from The Mitigator with South Island mare Kiwi Ida (Squamosa) booming home into third.
“I’m so happy for him as the monkey is off his back now and there are plenty more Group Ones to come for him,” Bosson said.
“I hit a little bit of a flat spot turning in but once he changed legs, I thought wow, what a turn of foot and I had a heap of horse under me.
“It’s exciting as I didn’t knock him around and the improvement that will be in him will make him a horse to watch out for.
“He is right up there with the best I’ve ridden.”
Richards was taken by the run and wasn’t fazed when his charge was so far off the leader with less than 600m to run.
“I watched it live and didn’t really see the hustle and bustle,” Richards said.
“When they straightened and he changed legs and exploded I thought that was pretty good.
“He’s the best we’ve had I think and he will go to Australia now and be competitive in whatever we run him in, so we’re really looking forward to it.”
Despite the light preparation leading into the race Richards wasn’t worried about a lack of fitness hampering the horse and is looking forward to him showing his best in Sydney over the coming weeks.
“He’s a naturally fit horse and doesn’t take a lot,” he said.
“He was pretty ready for today and we know what he is capable of.
“I’m really looking forward to getting him back to Australia and to knock off one of those good races as I really think he deserves one.”
Te Akau Shark will likely contest the Group One trio of the Chipping Norton Stakes (1600m) on February 29, George Ryder Stakes (1500m) on March 21 and Queen Elizabeth Stakes (2000m) on April 11 during his Sydney campaign.
He has now won six of his 11 career starts for earnings in excess of $1 million after being bought by Te Akau principal David Ellis from the Lyndhurst Farm draft for $230,000 during the 2016 Ready To Run Sale of 2YOs at Karaka.