In-form Waikato jockey Ryan Elliot hopes to be celebrating his first taste of black-type success for the season when he has Christmas with his family in Levin. The highly talented 20-year-old wound up last season with a personal best tally of 60 wins, including six black-type wins, and, though he has made a flying start to the current season with six wins in his last four days of riding, and 32 wins in total, he has had to settle for minor placings in pursuit of further stakes success.
His latest shots at black-type have resulted in seconds on the Roger James and Robert Wellwood- trained Shenanigans when beaten a half-head by Scorpz in the Group 3 Wellington Stakes (1600m) at Otaki on November 29 and Team Rogerson’s smart galloper Beauden in the Group 3 Eagle Technology Stakes (1600m) at Ellerslie a day later.
Elliot’s big hopes of changing his black-type luck this weekend rest with the rising star Rock On Wood, part-owned and trained by his mother, Leanne Elliot, in the Group 2 Kamada Park Manawatu Challenge Stakes (1400m). Elliot will also ride Concert Hall in the Group 3 Aberdeen on Broadway Manawatu Cup (2300m). Elliot has ridden Rock On Wood in all bar one of his 10 starts and has been aboard in each of his six wins, including his last four wins in succession, and it would be special for him to win the Manawatu Challenge Stakes on the verge of Christmas.
Rock On Wood, a five-year-old Redwood gelding, promises to be hard to beat on Saturday, having beaten Group 1 winners Shadows Cast and Wyndspelle respectively in his last two starts and before that he defeated Beauden, whom Elliot rode to win decisively at Awapuni on Saturday. “He’s going to be fitter for that first run,” Elliot said. “He blew out about 150m from the finish when he changed legs. He had to get going again. It was a top effort.”
Leanne Elliot had considered waiting for the open 1550m at Awapuni on Boxing Day, but she has decided the Manawatu Challenge Stakes fits in best as a lead-up to his main mission, the Group 1 Thorndon Mile (1600m) at Trentham on January 18. “It could be a little short for him, but it’s right here close by,” the Levin owner-trainer said. “I just hope the track is all right. It’s rated a Slow7 at present and I wouldn’t start him if it was worse. “He’s done well since his first run and he seems to like his races spaced out so he can go straight from this one to the Thorndon Mile. “I’ve nominated him for the Herbie Dyke Stakes (Group 1, 2000m) at Te Rapa, but I’ll just see how he’s going.”
While Ryan Elliot knows Rock On Wood well, he has had only one unplaced ride on Concert Hall, and is fully aware of the five-year-old Savabeel mare’s talent. She has won five of her 15 starts, her most recent victory being in the Group 3 Cuddle Stakes (1600m) at Trentham last March. “She has never had a decent draw lately and has had to go back,” he said. “I hope to get her closer and put her in the race. I think she’s a very good chance on Saturday.”
Elliot completed his apprenticeship with Graeme Rogerson in June and, though he has remained with Team Rogerson, he has expanded his opportunities by riding fast work and jump-outs at Cambridge on a regular basis and linking up with James and Wellwood, a move which enabled him to pick up the Concert Hall mount and others for the stable.
He extended his winning tally for James and Wellwood to 16 when successful on Madam Hass at Ellerslie on Sunday and is keen to ride stablemate Shenanigans in the Listed Uncle Remus Stakes (1400m) at Ellerslie on Boxing Day. “The penny hasn’t dropped with him yet, he’s still got a lot to learn, but he’s got so much ability,” Elliot said. “I’m also looking forward to riding Mascarpone and Beauden again. Mascarpone is still learning, too, but he won well at Trentham, and Graeme is having a meeting with Beauden’s owner to discuss where to go next with him. He’s up to winning a Group race.”
Elliot is also excited about the prospects of another Rogerson stablemate, the two-year-old colt by Iffraaj from the dual Group 1 winner Katie Lee who created a big impression over 1000m at Tuesday’s Te Aroha trials. He jumped out, got cut off and pushed back to last, was still there on the turn, but once angled to the outside by Elliot he powered home to win decisively. “Hopefully he’ll run over Christmas-New Year,” Elliot said. “He’s smart.”
While much of New Zealand’s emerging young talent, both human and equine, are lured offshore, Elliot said he was focused on the job at hand domestically. “Honestly, I haven’t really thought about Australia,” he said. “If anything decent (an offer) came up later on I would probably consider it, but for now I’m happy to stay here and ride out the rest of the season. “I’m getting on the right horses and getting more opportunities. I’m happy the way it’s going.”