Te Akau takes proactive measures
Te Akau Principal David Ellis. Photo: Trish Dunell
Te Akau Racing, one of New Zealand’s largest racing operations, has elected to turnout nearly its entire racing team as a result of the global Covid-19 pandemic.
The Matamata-based operation will only continue with a skeleton staff to handle their younger stock, while the majority of their team has headed to Te Akau principal David Ellis’ 4000 acre farm, Te Akau Stud, to spell.
Ellis said Te Akau had already established measures to protect their staff before the country moved to Covid-19 alert level 4 at 11:59pm on Wednesday.
“We have been making sure all staff keep at least 2 metres away from each other at all times. We have split the team at the farm in two halves so that there is no more than five working in any one section.
“We have brought most of the horses home to spell at Te Akau Stud. We will only have a limited number of horses at Matamata and a few yearlings that are in the breaking-in and education phase.”
Ellis has elected to take a cautious approach, spelling the majority of Te Akau’s race team.
“Te Akau is trying to show responsibility,” he said. “We have told all of our staff that they have still got jobs. Some are having holidays, some have relocated to Te Akau Stud to help with all the horses that are spelling.
“Most of our horses go out for a spell in the next month anyway. After a month we will be into the period where the tracks are heavy and Te Akau doesn’t race much then anyway.
“We hope that the lockdown is only for four weeks. Even if it is eight weeks, we will be raring to go as soon as it is all over.”
While it may be longer than the initial four week lockdown period announced by New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern before racing commences, Ellis said the industry could take some creative approaches to allow for a quicker return to racing.
“We will be doing everything we can to help the racing industry get back on its feet as soon as possible,” Ellis said.
“It might well mean instead of having trials we have 600m and 800m races to get the horses fit.
“I am really confident that everyone will work together and RITA (Racing Industry Transition Agency) and New Zealand Thoroughbred Racing will continue to keep us informed.”
Ellis’s attention has now turned to his 4000 acre sheep and beef farm, Te Akau Stud.
Agriculture has been the backbone of the New Zealand economy for many years and Ellis believes farmers and the agricultural industry will be vital in bringing the country out of an inevitable recession.
“The country is going to be desperate for the farmers to get us out of this financial mess,” he said.
“Everything associated with the farm is deemed essential. We need to keep producing to a high level. We can still apply fertiliser and continue to have our good staff available to run the farms.
“I think the economy will be driven out of a recession through agriculture.”
Looking back on a standout season for Te Akau, Ellis said he is proud of the operation’s international success, led by New Zealand trainer Jamie Richards and Singapore trainer Mark Walker.
“We have had an absolutely unbelievable season,” Ellis said. “To have a mare like Avantage win Group One races at 1200m, 1400m, 1600m, and 2000m is just a remarkable effort from Jamie and all the team at Matamata.
“We have won seven Group One races already this year, 11 Group Ones this season, and 20 black-type races – 17 in New Zealand and three in Australia.
“These sort of statistics don’t get achieved very often in New Zealand.
“I am incredibly proud of the entire team here at Te Akau Stud and Te Akau Racing, and Te Akau Singapore, with Mark leading the trainers’ premiership there as well.”
While their New Zealand racing team have been spelled, Te Akau is still pressing on with the autumn preparations of three of their runners in Sydney.
Jamie Richards’ father Paul, along with Ashley Handley, have stayed on in Australia to oversee the autumn campaigns of Te Akau Shark, Melody Belle, and Probabeel.
“Paul Richards and Ashely Handley, who is an absolutely outstanding young lady who has done a remarkable job for us, are staying over in Sydney along with our stable jockey Opie Bosson,” Ellis said.
“We have had a good chat and if they are going to continue racing (in Sydney) we want our horses to race.”
While Sydney racing has been temporarily suspended because of a Covid-19 scare, there remains a chance that Probabeel may run in the Gr.1 Vinery Stud Stakes (2000m) at Rosehill on Saturday.
If racing were to proceed, she would continue her high-profile duel with the Chris Waller-trained Funstar.
Probabeel got the better of her rival first-up when winning the Gr.1 Surround Stakes (1400m), while Funstar turned the tables last start when winning the Gr.2 Phar Lap Stakes (1500m).
Probabeel will jump from barrier six with Kerrin McEvoy set to ride, while Funstar will jump from gate eight, with expat New Zealand jockey James McDonald aboard.
“They (Paul and Ashley) are really happy with her and they are expecting she is going to go well over the 2000m,” Ellis said.
Ellis is also hoping Te Akau Shark and Melody Belle will get their chance to continue on towards their respective targets.
“The Queen Elizabeth (Gr.1, 2000m) will really suit Te Akau Shark and we are pretty excited about Melody Belle in the Doncaster (Gr.1, 1600m),” he said.
Ellis is hopeful of a swift recovery from the Covid-19 pandemic and said people have still been interested in purchasing shares in racehorses.
“Just yesterday (Wednesday) morning we sold two shares,” Ellis said. “We are really looking forward to getting back to normal and getting racing going again.”