Group 3 winning mare Etah James will join the stable of Ciaron Maher and David Eustace after a brave performance when fourth in last Saturday’s Group 1 Auckland Cup (3200m) behind Roger That. The seven-year-old mare is in the twilight of her career and will be set for a tilt at the Group 1 Sydney Cup (3200m) on April 11, with Matamata trainer and part-owner Mark Lupton keen to make use of the dual-state stable.
“Ciaron and Dave have a Sydney base at Warwick Farm, headed by Annabel Neasham and we have an existing relationship with the Maher-Eustace team,” Lupton said. “Ciaron trained her half-brother Sniper a few years ago.”
Etah James has won seven races for Ballarat trainer Matt Cumani, with Lupton recently taking over as trainer for a two-start campaign in New Zealand, which resulted in the mare finishing third in the Group 2 Avondale Cup (2400m) before her fourth placing in Auckland’s two-mile feature.
“I didn’t want to send her back to Ballarat to target a couple of races in Sydney and I spoke to Matt, who we have a fantastic relationship with, and he was very understanding,” Lupton said. “We thought rather than send her all the way back to Ballarat we might as well go straight to Sydney.”
While Lupton contemplated campaigning Etah James himself or transferring her to the care of a New Zealand trainer, the economics of an Australian-based trainer won out. “I contemplated taking her over myself, but logistically it is a nightmare and I am in the middle of moving and rearranging houses,” he said. “Then I was going to get a local to take her, but it’s actually a lot more expensive to send her over from here with a local trainer because you have got to have riders, accommodation and everything that goes with it.”
Lupton was pleased with Etah James’ run in the Auckland Cup and said she has pulled up well after the two-mile feature. “It’s as good an Auckland Cup field as we have had in a long time and it was the fastest Auckland Cup in 10 years. “I was happy with Shaun’s (McKay, jockey) ride because I instructed him to do what he did. The only thing I would have been happier with is if he had pushed on and gone to the front. When she gets to the front she is very tough to get past.
“But we thought she went so well at Auckland and I have never seen a horse come through it like she did. “She was bouncing around the next day. She is at Karen Fursdon’s at the moment. Karen is looking after her for me until she flies out next Monday night. “Hopefully we will get into the Sydney Cup and have a crack at that. We might look at the Chairman’s (Group 2, 2600m) the week before the Sydney Cup as well.”
Etah James is currently 41st in order of entry for the Sydney Cup, but Lupton is confident she will take her place in the field next month. “I don’t know how strong it is going to be this year,” Lupton said. “She is 41st in order of entry, but the guy at Racing New South Wales said he didn’t think there would be any issues at all. There are quite a few he knew of that would be dropping out.”
Etah James is currently set to carry 50kg in the Sydney Cup and Lupton cited that was another benefit of having her in the care of a local trainer. “She has got 50 kilos at the moment and that was another reason I thought if we get her over there those guys have got access to all the light weight riders,” he said. “Linda Meech rides for them quite a bit, so I am hoping they might be able to get her up because she has got a good record on the mare.”
Looking ahead to the Cup, Lupton said he is unfazed by track conditions given his mare’s ability to perform on all surfaces. “When I sent her to Matt I said this horse is going to need a heavy track and two miles to show its best. She won seven for Matt and six of them were on Good3s. “I lined her up at Ellerslie in the Cornwall last year on a Heavy11, she came from near last on the turn and made up nine lengths in the straight and just got beaten half a length. So I don’t think track conditions are going to worry her at all. “It doesn’t matter what she races on, she is just so genuine.”
Meanwhile, Lupton is busy making a transition in his own life, moving from the late Scott Richardson’s Flemington Farm near Matamata to his own property near Tirau. “We are just going to have our own horses out there,” he said. “I am not going to train any more, that was the last runner on Saturday.”
While Lupton admitted it was a bit sentimental training his last runner at Ellerslie on Saturday, he said it has just become too tough for smaller trainers. “I have never really been a horse trainer, I have only had an owner-trainers license from when I was in Waverley,” he said. “I took out my full license to train a few for Scott and it was more about preparing them before they went to Murray’s and Bjorn’s (Baker). “It has just become so difficult to get riders and trackwork riders these days.”
Lupton hasn’t been lost to the sport, he will continue to have a few horses in work with other trainers and he is about to start a part-time role with Matamata Stud farm Valachi Downs. “We have got five horses with Karen Fursdon at the moment and another one with Dan Miller. We have got a couple of half-brothers to Etah James, one is at Karen’s and one is at Dan’s,” he said.
“I am just going to carry on along those lines, give them to trainers. “Valachi Downs have just offered me some part-time work for them driving their truck to race meetings and trials. “I will just be doing that to keep my hand in and keep the wolf from the door.”