Butler was all the rage ahead of the Listed Levin Stakes (1400m) at Otaki on Thursday, but it was local hope Hold The Press who upset the apple cart.
Trainers Johno Benner and Hollie Wynyard thought the Press Statement mare was a good place chance heading into the race but were pleasantly surprised to see her quickly put a couple of lengths on her rivals in the straight and eventually ran out a 2-1/2 length victor over Sanibel.
“It was a very good win. It was a huge thrill for the owners, and I am just rapt for them, she will be quite a valuable broodmare for them now,” Benner said.
“She won dominantly, which was a pleasant surprise. I thought we were a good place chance, she was fit and going well, but I didn’t think we would be able to beat Butler.”
Benner is now eyeing the Gr.2 Westbury Classic (1400m) at Pukekohe in January with Hold The Press.
“There is a nice fillies and mares race over 1400m on Karaka Million night, which might be a nice race for her, but we won’t get too far ahead of ourselves,” he said.
Stablemates that could join her on the float trip north are Strides and Dapper, with the former breaking through for his maiden win in the Ribbon Plus (1200m) a race prior, while the latter was runner-up in the Foxton Fish & Chippie (1100m) on the same card.
Both horses were purchased as yearlings from Karaka by owner Gary Harding and will be set for their respective Karaka Million targets at Pukekohe in January.
The Otaki trainers have fond memories of the series, having won the Karaka Million 2YO (1200m) with Vespa in 2014 and Karaka Million 3YO Classic (1600m) in 2018 with Scott Base.
“It is a good day and they are hard races to win, but you are not going to win unless you are in,” Benner said.
Benner was over the moon with Strides’ 1-1/4 length victory and is looking forward to heading to the Karaka Million 3YO Classic (1600m) with the $120,000 yearling sale purchase from Landsdowne Park’s 2021 NZB Book 1 Yearling Sale draft.
“He was outstanding, it was a big win,” Benner said.
“He is a horse we have got a lot of faith in. He is still a little bit weak, but I think he will run a mile. He is in the Karaka 3YO Classic, so that might be a good target for us.
“There are going to be some very good horses going there but we will see what happens.”
Dapper, a $150,000 yearling purchase out of Milan Park’s 2022 NZB Book 1 Yearling Sale draft, is destined for the Karaka Million 2YO (1200m) after his pleasing effort on Thursday.
“We are happy with him, we were only using this as a trial,” Benner said. “He will go to Boxing Day at Pukekohe and then into the Karaka Million.”