Jamie Richards made the penultimate weekend of his current training stint in New Zealand a memorable one when he produced a Group One winning double at Trentham on Saturday.
Richards, who will enter the next stage of his career when he makes the move to Hong Kong in May, will prepare his last runners in New Zealand this coming weekend and made sure he took the opportunity to sign off his local Group One achievements in spectacular style.
After kicking off the day with a stakes victory for Leaderboard in the Listed New Zealand St Leger (2600m), Richards hit overdrive when exciting three-year-old filly Imperatriz headed home a Te Akau Racing first four in the Group 1 Levin Classic (1600m) before going agonisingly close to the trifecta in the Group 1 New Zealand Oaks (2400m) where Belle En Rouge defeated Self Obsession, with The Perfect Pink close up in fourth.
Richards took time out on Sunday to reflect on what he considered another day at the office, albeit one with more action and excitement than most.
“While I’m getting to the end of it here in New Zealand, Saturday was an important part of the job and a day where we wanted to see our horses perform up to their very best,” he said.
“To win any Group One is special and to make it two on the day was terrific and due reward for all the hard work our team has put in over the last few months.
“It has been a pretty testing time for everyone with COVID knocking us around and the staff never faltered in their professionalism and dedication and the stable has reaped the rewards.
“I think the evidence on Saturday is that the stable has some very exciting horses to work with next season and I’m sure David (Ellis) and Mark (Walker) are looking forward to that.
“We did go into the day with our confidence high and knew if we got some luck we would be there fighting out the finish in those races, but there were also some lovely rides as well which played a big part in the success we had.”
Richards also believes that Levin Classic winner Imperatriz has what it takes to compete at a high level in Australia next season if the decision is made to tackle an offshore campaign.
“Mark and David will be doing the planning for a filly like Imperatriz, but I think she can compete at stakes level over in Australia,” he said.
“She will need a break now, but next season she could well head over there for a campaign.
“She is such a tractable filly as she showed in her recent races where she got back at Ellerslie and ran home strongly to push Sword Of State close in the Almanzor Trophy (Group 3, 1200m) and then came out and led and blitzed the older mares at Matamata.
“Michael (McNab) gave her a lovely sit on Saturday and she showed an impressive finishing burst, so I think with a good break and natural maturity she can certainly improve again for her next campaign.”
The 32-year-old, with 52 Group One wins to his name, will have a chance to add a last stakes victory to his resume’ on Saturday with Prise De Fer and Brando to tackle the Group 2 Ultimate Mazda Japan Trophy (1600m) at Tauranga, before he puts his feet up for a well-deserved spell of his own.
“We will be a bit quiet this weekend as we have a number of horses heading to the spelling paddock, however Brando and Prise De Fer will start in the stakes race at Tauranga,” he said.
“Once racing has finished for the day I guess I can have a bit of a break before Danielle (Johnson) and I head up to Hong Kong on May 11.
“We might slip over to Sydney for a couple of weeks as I plan on going to the Easter Yearling Sale there, while we might also go up to the Hunter Valley for a look around as I’ve never been there before.
“When we get back it will be full on preparing for the move and getting ready for what we will experience in Hong Kong.”
While excited about the Hong Kong move, Richards is realistic about the hard work that will be involved for both he and Johnson as they attempt to settle into their new surroundings
“It’s a new challenge and an exciting one at that, but there is plenty to do to make it work,” he said,
“I’ve only been there once before so most things will be new and a bit different to what I’m used to.
“I know I have to really work hard to learn about the methods up there and preparing the horses to fit the environment.
“I will have sixty boxes at Sha Tin to start with and there is the possibility for another twenty at Conghua later on.
“We have some nice young horses getting prepared here in New Zealand while there will be some being transferred into my stable to start things off.
“Danielle and I will be based in an apartment at Sha Tin where the other jockeys, trainers etc. are and we are sending up some familiar possessions, while I’m sure there will be some shopping to do when we get up there.
“I guess there might also be a bit of a send off back here before we go, but how we actually fit that in will be the big question.”
Saturday’s stakes winning treble took Richards’ domestic black-type haul for the current season to 28 just eight shy of the 36 he achieved in the 2020/21 racing season.