Kingsguard made a successful return to his homeland with a gritty victory over 1200m at Ellerslie on Saturday.
The Rip Van Winkle six-year-old commenced his career in New Zealand under the name His Majesty for trainer Chris McNab, where he raced six times for three placings, including a runner-up finish to the highly talented Gr.1 New Zealand 2000 Guineas (1600m) winner, Xtravagant.
Transferred to the Sydney stable of Team Hawkes, the gelding put together a handy record of five wins from 31 starts under the name Kingsguard, including victory in the 2018 Gr.3 Hawkesbury Gold Cup (1600m).
Kingsguard returned to New Zealand shores earlier this year and was placed with new trainer Jamie Richards where he had undergone a slow build-up to his raceday return.
Richards, who was busy with his stable representatives at Awapuni on Saturday, found time to brief rider Nik Bakar on how he wanted the horse ridden and the Te Akau Racing stable apprentice followed those instructions to the letter to procure a front-running victory.
“I hadn’t been completely happy with him in the build-up to Saturday, so we weren’t that confident of a win,” Richards said.
“There didn’t look to be a great deal of speed in the race, so I said to Nik to take him to the front and make use of his 3kg claim.
“He rode him perfectly and it was great to see him kick back so strongly in the closing stages when it looked like he might get swamped.
“It was a nice way to get him (Kingsguard) started again as he is a pretty classy customer.
“I think we will probably give him one more run in this campaign and then tip him out with a view to bringing him back in the spring.”
The win also created a special memory for Bakar who leaves New Zealand on Monday to resume his career in Singapore for trainer Mark Walker.
Meanwhile Richards and the Te Akau team will monitor New Zealand Derby runner-up In A Twinkling over the next few days after the Fastnet Rock gelding battled on fairly on an unsuitable heavy surface to finish fifth in Saturday’s Gr.2 Tulloch Stakes (2000m) at Rosehill.
“He just didn’t seem to cope with the ground that well so we will keep an eye on him over the next few days before we make a decision on whether he goes to the Australian Derby (Gr.1 2400m) or not,” Richards said.
“He does need good ground to show his best and it just doesn’t seem to want to stop raining in Sydney at the moment.
“If he doesn’t go to the Derby then we might take a look at Queensland for their winter carnival but until we see how he pulls up we won’t be making any decisions just yet.”
Richards is keen to see the Sydney weather make rapid improvement this week as he puts the finishing touches on classy two-year-old filly Probabeel’s bid for the Gr.1 Sires’ Produce Stakes (1400m) at Randwick on Saturday.
“She is really well and has thrived since her last run, but we would really like to see some improvement in the track for her,” he said.
“She coped reasonably well first-up over there on a heavy track but she needs some decent footing to show her best.”
Richards also confirmed that his two runners from Saturday’s Gr.1 Courtesy Ford Manawatu Sires’ Produce Stakes (1400m), winner Yourdeel and seventh-placed Equinox, would both be sent to the spelling paddock this week. – NZ Racing Desk