Gr.1 Al Basti Equiworld New Zealand 2000 Guineas (1600m) favourite Catalyst. Photo: Trish Dunell
Star three-year-old Catalyst has arrived in Christchurch and is expected to make a one-act affair of Saturday’s Gr.1 Al Basti Equiworld New Zealand 2000 Guineas (1600m) at Riccarton.
Prepared at Te Awamutu by Clayton Chipperfield, Catalyst has been installed a prohibitive $1.20 favourite for the Guineas after bullying his rivals in three lead-up races, leading the majority of competitors to concede they are running for second in the $500,000 race.
“He got here this morning (Wednesday) and I got here last night,” Chipperfield said.
“There were no hold-ups and he has travelled super.
“He is as ready as we are going to get him. Troy (Harris, jockey) is flying down today so I am going to get him to give him a little quiet trot and canter tomorrow to make sure everything is 100 percent.
“It is mainly just to check that he is happy down here and that Troy is happy with him. After his gallop at Te Aroha last week I think we are pretty much right.”
A former top-class jumps jockey, Chipperfield is pinching himself as to how smoothly the campaign has gone for the electric son of Darci Brahma who has won his past four races with ease.
“We have been very lucky,” he said.
“We made some plans after he won his first trial back in March. Every race we have targeted for him he has just got better and better and he keeps winning them. It has been a faultless preparation.”
Raced by The Oaks Stud, strong supporters of the emerging trainer, Chipperfield said the temperament of offspring by the stud’s resident sire went a long way to making them good racehorses.
“Full credit to the Darci Brahma breed. All Darci geldings are like him, they are relaxed and take everything in their stride.
“Catalyst worries about absolutely nothing. His last three races he has had to travel the night before and he eats up and just enjoys it. Nothing bothers him and that is a huge asset to him.”
In an ominous warning to race rivals, a sleek and shiny Catalyst is expected to present at Riccarton on Saturday, where the gelding is expected to peak.
“His coat has completely gone now. He is as ready as he can be right on time.
“At his first start, I think he was the fluffiest horse in the birdcage. I did my shampoo and let him dry out in the sun and he fluffed up like a ball.
“It is a bit of an old tale, if they are good within then they can still do it. There was obviously still improvement in him with his coat coming out. It has completely gone now and he will be a different looking horse on Saturday.”
For the 39-year-old horseman, the decision to make a fist of training rather than just pre-training is paying early dividends.
“It would be phenomenal to win the Guineas,” Chipperfield said. “I’ve only just started taking the game a little more seriously at the start of this year. I think before this year I had trained four winners.
“When Rick (Williams, of the Oaks Stud) and I decided we were going to take a few more horses and send them to the trials and races, having the favourite for the 2000 Guineas was certainly a dream. You wouldn’t possibly think it would happen this early, or ever. Horses like him don’t come along very often.
“It is going to put me on the map if I can get a Group One this early.”
Chipperfield said that it has been a trickle, more so than a flood of interest, from owners to join the stable given his good recent success, but he hoped Catalyst would ignite further interest should he win on Saturday.
“We have picked up a couple of syndicates, a couple of leased horses, but nothing that has given me 10 or 15 more horses.
“I’m happy to take more but I don’t want to be one of these big gun trainers. I had 40 in work three months ago and I was struggling to get them all done. You are working all day and it is hard to enjoy. Now I have 20 in work and life is great.
I’m pretty hands on, I like being a part of every part of the day. In Te Awamutu, and the whole North Island, it is hard to get staff. When you have big numbers, you can’t get them all done yourself or with one or two other riders. Then you start cutting corners and that is the last thing I want to do because that starts to show.”
Chipperfield said that should training and taking horses through to the races not work out, he could always go back to breaking and pre-training.
“It’s been seven years we have been doing it and we have broken in more than 600 horses.
“We were turning over 200 plus horses a year and that’s some big numbers and a lot of falling off I have had to deal with, and the body does start to cop a bit of a hiding. I’m not as young as what I used to be.
“So I thought that if I had a crack at training and it didn’t work I could always go back to breaking and pre-training.”
Dick Karreman, owner of the The Oaks Stud, has turned down several lucrative off-shore offers for Catalyst and New Zealand racing fans have been the beneficiary.
“Thankfully Dick doesn’t need the money and he wants some fun and he is certainly getting it with this horse,” Chipperfield said.
The trainer is delighted with barrier two and said Catalyst has proved to be tactically versatile.
“Two is probably the perfect barrier, we can put him wherever we like and it has left our options open. If something does ping the gates and wants the lead, then we will just take the sit.
“If he ends up in front, we found out last time that doesn’t bother him either.
“What he has already done on the track is mind blowing really and watching that gallop at Te Aroha I think he has improved again.
“Barring a serious problem or bad luck in the running we have got to be a huge chance.”
Chipperfield expects Catalyst to be footing it with the best in Australia in autumn but he does not know whether his name will be in the form-guide beyond Saturday.
“He goes to the paddock after Saturday. Whether he stays in New Zealand to get ready rather than heading to Aussie I don’t know.
“I think we will get the 2000 Guineas out of the way and then a plan will be made. If he can win on Saturday, I can’t imagine we will see him running in New Zealand again.
“I haven’t been told I am training him, but I haven’t been told I’m not. I obviously have my hand up but we have to play that by ear.”