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Crew Set to Go Nuts

1 Apr 2017

Crew Set to Go Nuts
The Informant reports:

In the space of a few short weeks, a chestnut gelding by the unlikely name of Gingernuts has become racing’s new headline act.

Today (Saturday) at the headquarters of Sydney racing he will have the force of a new generation of racehorse owners behind him as Opie Bosson takes him to the barrier in quest of a transtasman Derby double that only the very best have completed.

The last horse to complete the New Zealand-Australian Derby double was Mongolian Khan in 2015, and before that the mighty Bonecrusher more than three decades earlier.

After wins in the Avondale Guineas and New Zealand Derby followed by a dominant Rosehill Guineas victory in his Sydney debut, Gingernuts is now on the verge of becoming the next.

From the time of his purchase by Te Akau Racing principal David Ellis for $42,500 at the 2015 Karaka Ready to Run Sale, the son of Iffraaj has garnered a following that is verging on cult status.

Anyone at Ellerslie on New Zealand Derby day would have been blind or deaf not to have noticed the large group of mostly young people wearing tangerine caps with blue print declaring ‘G-Nuts’ on the front and ‘He’s got the bikkies’ across the back. Two weeks after a gob-smacking Avondale Guineas win that announced Gingernuts’ arrival on the big stage, Derby day was also the time of reckoning for his enthusiastic bunch of owners.

And what a scene they created, from the time Gingernuts left the parade ring, took a perfect spot in the 2400-metre classic and surged home to claim the thick end of the $1 million prize. The full range of emotions – understandable when some members of the Gingernuts Syndicate are first-time owners – played out.

Right in the middle of it all has been Blair Alexander, GM of planning at leading Auckland media agency FCB, who had his first experience of big race success as a part-owner of the super-talented Hasselhoof and is now taking along a bunch of workmates, family and friends on an incomparable ride.

“It really all started with Hasselhoof; part of his ownership group were work associates plus my father, who’s always been keen on racing and gave me my introduction to it,” Alexander said when talking to The Informant this week. “Then when I got the call from Te Akau to see if I was interested in this horse that David had bought at the Ready to Run Sale, we took a 75 per cent share in him.

“A couple of the people who were in Hasselhoof opted out because they reckoned they couldn’t be that lucky again, but there was no shortage of others wanting to come in. Some signed up for as little as $1,000 and in the end I could have sold the horse twice over.”

Labelled with the name Gingernuts, the new prospect finished second on debut at Pukekohe, beaten by another from the Stephen Autridge/Jamie Richards team, Hall Of Fame, who incredibly had been the only other Ready to Run selection made by Ellis less than six months before. Later in May he gave his owners the first real taste of what was to come with a win at Hastings, ridden by Alexander’s partner, leading jockey Matthew Cameron.

An injury delayed Gingernuts’ three-year-old campaign until mid-summer and his first two starts were below expectations, but then something clicked when he stepped out in Rating 65 1600 metres at Te Teko in late January.

“Matt’s instructions were to give him a good wake-up, so that’s what he got when the field jumped and he switched on and came up with the win,” Alexander recalls. “David, Steve and Jamie decided they may as well try him against the good three-year-olds, so that meant a start in the Avondale Guineas.

“We had a big team along to Ellerslie but when he blew the start and was trundling along at the tail of the field, there I am in the stand apologising to everyone, more or less resigned to defeat. It’s still hard to believe what happened, seeing him charge up the inside rail and win like that.

“There were whistles, screaming, jumping, tears, all sorts. It was mind-blowing and they all made a heap on the punt too. Some had a hundred bucks on (at $31.00 fixed odds or $27.30 on the tote) and that got them five grand.”

With a $30,000 late entry into the Derby by this stage a matter of course, it was more of the same but on an even grander scale back at Ellerslie on March 4.

“Everyone was in the zone, we had a ‘capping ceremony’ handing out the G-Nuts caps on the Thursday night before the Derby and come the big day it was all on. Winning the race was almost surreal with everyone there going off – nothing like it, the celebrations and partying went on for a long time.”

The last time that Cameron rode Gingernuts was at Te Teko, a time that coincided with his replacement by Opie Bosson as stable jockey for Te Akau, but hard feelings are the last thing on any minds.

“Opie is one of Matt’s greatest mates and we’ve both maintained our relationship with David and Karyn and everyone else at Te Akau. Matt accepted the situation and was quite happy to take a greater role with Murray Baker and Andrew Forsman, so in some ways it was a simple matter of him and Opie swapping roles.”

Cameron and Alexander have been together for eight years, dating back to a low point for the former champion apprentice. “When we first met Matt’s career was not going well, he had lost his focus, but we put together a plan to restore his credibility,” Alexander said.

“He got things back on track and it’s very satisfying to know that since then he’s had five 100-plus seasons, two premierships and 60 stakes wins, 10 of them Group Ones.

“At the Auckland Cup carnival he won the New Zealand Stakes on Lizzie L’Amour for Murray and Andrew and then the New Zealand Oaks for them on Bonneval.

“On Oaks day I had intended being in Sydney for Gingernuts’ run in the Rosehill Guineas, but I misplaced my passport and had to scrap that idea. Instead I went to Trentham with Matt and the day ended well with him winning the Oaks and less than an hour later Gingernuts winning at Rosehill.”

Those arrangements will be reversed this weekend, with Cameron opting to join the G-Nuts travelling party to Sydney ahead of riding duties at Awapuni. According to Alexander, more than 40 owners and supporters will be wearing their distinctive caps at Randwick tomorrow, complete with a television crew recording their every move for possible use on mainstream media.

“What’s happened with Gingernuts is a great example of how people can come on board and have the experience of a lifetime,” Alexander says. “It’s been a whirlwind but it’s a great story, and if he did happen to cap it by winning the Australian Derby it’s the best publicity that racing could wish for.”

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