Ruakaka raider Dragon Storm produced the performance of his life when he took out the Group 3 Christchurch Casino New Zealand Cup (3200m) at Riccarton in a thrilling finish to the time-honoured event. The Chris Gibbs-trained six-year-old was well fancied in the race after a stunning five-length victory in his final lead-up run over 3000m.
By Group 1 Melbourne Cup (3200m) winner Shocking out of two-time Group 1 Auckland Cup (3200m) winner Prize Lady, his undoubted staying credentials strengthened his support as he started a $4.20 Fixed Odds favourite in an even line-up for the 157th running of the two-mile feature. Given a perfect ride in midfield under jockey Craig Grylls, Dragon Storm made his move at the 1000m as he pierced between runners to loom into contention with 300m to run.
The six-year-old mastered Wanganui visitor Hurry Cane, who had shot to the lead, but was immediately set upon by Cambridge runner Lincoln King who had tracked him into the race. The pair went blow for blow over the final furlong with Dragon Storm thrusting his head in front at the winning post to secure the victory by a nose from a game Lincoln King, with Hurry Cane back in third. “I must admit I was a little worried when I saw them all start to roll around him,” a delighted Chris Gibbs said.
“I had said to Craig to watch out as they would all start coming at him and he might get shuffled back. “He rode him beautifully and got him out at just the right time. “With his breeding we all know he can stay but the beautiful big track here just suited him down to the ground. “I don’t know about these nose margins though, as I think my heart is going to jump out of my chest.”
Gibbs had the option of taking his charge to Warrnambool later in the month for the unique A$304,000 Jericho Cup (4600m) after winning a qualifier last start, however he has ruled out the Country Victoria feature. The improving stayer is likely to have a brief break before being set for a tilt at the Group 1 Barfoot & Thompson Auckland Cup (3200m) in March, while the Group 3 NZ Campus Of Innovation & Sport Wellington Cup (3200m) in late January is also a possible target, depending on how severe the handicapper is on the gelding who was rated 75 prior to his Group 3 win.
“He can go to the paddock for a break now,” Gibbs said. “It’s no use going to the Jericho as, when you win a race like this, you will be weighted out of it. “It’s too soon for him as he likes to be raced fresh like his mother did. “I’m also going to give Terri Rae a big hug as she and her staff have done a wonderful job with him while he has been staying down here.”
Grylls was impressed by the toughness his mount showed over the final stages as he lifted to victory. “He’s a tough customer,” he said. “He’s made for this type of race as he jumps okay and then relaxes so well, he hardly touches the bit. “He came up underneath me at the top of the straight and gave a nice little kick. “The second horse has come at him and made it quite close but he was too tough.”
Dragon Storm has now won five of his 23 starts and over $200,000 in prizemoney. The stayer is raced by a syndicate of local Chinese owners, headed by Alan Fu, who went to $150,000 to secure Dragon Storm as a two-year-old at the NZB Ready To Run Sale.