19th December 2020
There were a few questions around Ragazzo Mach and today’s Wairio Cup.
One was, how would he handle his first standing start and first run against race hardened higher assessed horses?
Ragazzo Mach heading to the birdcage prior to his win today – Photo Bruce Stewart.
It turned out to be no problem as the province’s rising star answered all the questions with an emphatic win in the feature, and in doing so broke a long standing course and Southland record.
“He did bobble for a couple of strides. He just panicked when everyone rushed off but he hit his straps pretty quickly,” trainer driver Nathan Williamson said about the start.
Williamson summed up the race perfectly when, with just under a lap to run, he eased Ragazzo Mach off the inside running line.
“I saw Robyns Playboy beginning very quickly and saw him move behind me so I thought it was a good opportunity to nip round and then take the trail because he was the one to follow.”
Robyns Playboy carried Ragazzo Mach to the passing lane but second favourite Watch Me Now was quickly on the scene when the field turned in.
“He felt real good turning in. I was just a wee bit worried that the other horses had their speed up and had kicked clear on the bend while I was held up. Once he came through though he levelled out and sprinted up well.”
Three year old Ragazzo Mach winning the Wairio Cup easily – Photo Bruce Stewart.
The winning margin was two lengths with Watch Me Now finishing second and there was another length and a quarter back to Love On The Rocks.
The winning time of 2-59.0 was a new track and Southland record for three year olds, bettering Shorty’s Chance’s 2009 record of 3-01.3. The time was just 0.8 seconds outside the New Zealand record for Three Year Old Colts and Geldings held by Pembrook’s Passion.
Heading back to the birdcage – Photo Bruce Stewart
Ragazzo Mach became the first three year old to win the Cup since Kawarau Gold won in 1973.
Some were surprised to see Ragazzo Mac in the Cup field, but Williamson made the call after the colt recovered well after his last start nine days ago.
“It’s never easy. I’ve made no secret of the fact I didn’t want to go to Gore and race on the grass. Racing on the grass for three year olds – I‘m not a real fan. Some may have viewed it as a bit of a risk to bring him here today but I was happy with the way he was and I thought he’d improve on last weeks race.”
Williamson has had plenty of nice three year olds in his stable since starting his training career in 2010; horses like Tas Man Bromac, Franco Santino, and Pembrook Playboy.
“He’s a very nice three year old. Pembrook Playboy was hamstrung last season because of Covid. I would have loved to have tested him against the better three year olds. I think Ragazzo Mach is more mature (at the same age) so he’s more a natural three year old. I thought Pembrook Playboy would develop into a better horse at four and five. This fella’s there now so he has to be right up there.”
It was the second time owner Neville Cleaver has won the Wairio Cup, taking out the race in 2017 with Hopes And Dreams, trained by Graeme Anderson and driven by Williamson.
In the birdcage with Neville Cleaver – Photo Bruce Stewart
A happy Cleaver with the Wairio Cup – Photo Bruce Stewart
It was the fifth time Williamson has driven the winner of the Wairio Cup. Prior to today’s win which was his first as a trainer, he’s driven Here Comes Soky (2007), Costa Del Magnifico (2015), Hopes And Dreams (2017) and Smokin By (2018).
Meanwhile quality mare Yankee Party overcame a second line draw to win the first heat of the SSBA Southern Belle Speed Series.
Yankee Party winning the first heat of the Southern Belle Speed Series
Back to the birdcage – Photo Bruce Stewart
The American Ideal five year old mare’s winning time was 1-53.7 and was her fourth win in just eight starts.
She was driven by Nathan Williamson, one of three winning drives for the Branxholme reinsman.