Outsider Sponge Bob ($34) upset predictions when he produced a dour staying effort to take out the Gr.2 Warren Storm Lifebrokers Waikato Guineas (2000m) at Te Rapa in the hands of replacement rider Troy Harris.
Harris received a late call-up for the ride on the three-year-old Keeper gelding after ill-health prevented original jockey Michael Coleman from taking the mount.
Harris followed the instructions of co-trainer, Graham Richardson, to the letter as he positioned Sponge Bob just in behind a steady speed set-up by free-going pacemaker, Arrogant.
Harris tracked race favourite Sword In Stone into contention and issued his challenge at the 200m mark. With Arrogant fighting on strongly the trio set down to a tooth and nail battle over the concluding stages with Sponge Bob fighting best to down Arrogant by a neck with a short head back to Sword In Stone in third.
Richardson, who prepares the gelding with training partner Gavin Parker, made it back-to-back wins in the event after Niagara gelding Xbox took out the race in 2018. He was quick to praise the effort of Harris who had followed their pre-race plan to perfection.
“I told him that most of the time at Te Rapa they haul up down the back straight so if you are there you get a rest,” he said.
“It was a great result and I’m really chuffed for the owners and the staff and the horse.”
Richardson admitted he had no real confidence heading into the race and was hoping his charge could fill a dividend-bearing placing after breaking his maiden status on the track at his last start.
“I thought if he could run in the first three, I would be rapt,” he said.
“This is just an absolute bonus.
“He’s not entered for the Derby as at the time of the early noms he wasn’t showing us much and the last thing I want to do is waste people’s money.
“He just keeps getting better so I will discuss it with the owners now and we could pay the late entry.”
Nominations for the Gr.1 Vodafone New Zealand Derby (2400m) closed last November however a late nomination can be submitted by 19 February at a fee of $30,003.
The last horse to win the New Zealand Derby after paying the late entry fee was fan-favourite Gingernuts after he had won the traditional Derby lead-up event, the Gr.2 Avondale Guineas (2200m) a fortnight earlier. – NZ Racing Desk