A mere nose separated Roger James and Robert Wellwood from a perfect result on what was still a successful weekend for the Cambridge training duo.
James travelled south to Hastings with in-form stable runners Pinion and Avalene for the first Hawke’s Bay Racing Inc. fixture since the region was inundated by Cyclone Gabrielle in mid-February.
He was on a dual mission, however, with his intention to confirm on Saturday how the six-figure flood relief fund he and associates had raised would be allocated.
“We had done a lot of homework around various organisations aiding the people who had been so terribly affected by the cyclone,” James said.
“The most prominent one was the East Coast Rural Support Trust, and when I drove down into the Esk Valley and realised the scale of the devastation, I rang our four main contributors for their permission to allocate the full amount to the Rural Support Trust.
“We really wanted to see all the money raised go directly to those in need, and as the Rural Support Trust had explained, the Government subsidy that takes care of their administration costs saw to that.
“When I explained all that to our key supporters, they were unanimous that the Rural Support Trust fitted our intentions.”
The Hawke’s Bay club had played a major role in the immediate cyclone response, opening its facilities to the community and using the racecourse as a distribution point for donated goods.
As part of the return to racing on Saturday, HBTRI hosted a function involving the Rural Support Trust and volunteers as well as a number of families who had been directly impacted by the cyclone.
“I was invited to the function and it gave me a huge amount of pleasure to announce on behalf of all of those involved at our end, that the $190,000 raised in donations would go to the Trust bank account,” James said.
“I got a standing ovation and it was very emotional but I stressed to everyone that it wasn’t about me – it was about a whole lot of people from the racing industry who had got behind it.”
James and his inner group had been joined in the initiative by former Hawke’s Bay identity Tony Rider, now a Hamilton supermarket franchise-holder, who organised the collation and transport of essential grocery items.
“As well as the $190,000, in the first week after the cyclone we were also able to purchase more than $100,000 worth of supermarket essentials for first response delivery.
“That says a lot about who we are as an industry, which really is something to be proud of.”
Out on the track on Saturday, James saddled up the promising staying mare Avalene for the third win in her last four starts in the Rating 75 Vintech Poverty Bay Cup (2500m), and fellow four-year-old Pinion for the closest of seconds in the Listed Power Farming Hawke’s Bay Cup (2200m).
“Avalene has a very bright future, but that will be it for now,” James said. “She was backing up from her win at Pukekohe last week and she can go to the paddock now.”
The daughter of Vadamos races in the colours of her breeder, Joan Egan, and is a half-sister to her star performer Concert Hall, the winner of 11 of her 34 starts headed by the Gr. 1 Zabeel Classic (2000m).
“As always, Joan has allowed us to take as much time as we need with Avalene and it’s very satisfying to see that patience rewarded,” James said.
“When she comes back next season I think she’s a chance to get two miles.”
James also has a lot of time for Pinion, a gelding by Pins raced by his breeder Peter Doughty and still lightly tried with three wins and three seconds from 12 starts.
After his win late last month in the Rating 75 Kuripuni Sports Bart & TAB Masterton Cup, the decision was made to try Pinion in the Hawke’s Bay Cup and it almost came off with a nose second to Fierce Flight.
“With Colorado Star clearly highest rated at the top of the field, the weights were compressed and that worked against a horse like him,” James said.
“It would have meant a lot to win, that would have capped off a special day, but he still performed with great credit.
“We have yet to make a decision, but we might send him to Melbourne for one run to round off his season.”
Closer to home at Te Rapa on Saturday, Wellwood held up his side of the partnership with a win to the enigmatic Roccia and a second placing to Cullinan.
“Roccia has always been a good trackworker but hasn’t reproduced that on raceday, and she did have two feet on a banana skin,” James said.
“I said to Robert I wasn’t prepared to give up on her, so we decided to take the blinkers off, train her in the paddock – pop her over some logs, that sort of thing – and she was a different horse this time.”
James and Wellwood are enjoying a fruitful season with 32 wins and eighth place on the trainers’ premiership building further on their tally of 37 and 10th place last season.
The star of the team has been trans-Tasman Group One winner Prowess, who was back home and in the spelling paddock days after her runaway victory in last month’s Gr. 1 Vinery Stud Stakes (2000m).
“Yes, we’re having another good season,” James said. “The exciting thing is we’ve unearthed one that could be anything.” – NZ Racing Desk