Semi-retired horseman Mark Lupton is encouraged by reports on his top-class staying mare Etah James, as the eight-year-old daughter of Raise The Flag gets ready for a spring campaign. The winner of the Group 1 Sydney Cup (3200m) in autumn, Etah James has remained in the care of Ciaron Maher and David Eustace at their Warwick Farm base in Sydney, having traversed the Tasman on multiple occasions in late summer.
Lupton, who bred and races the mare, trained Etah James to finish third in the Group 2 Avondale Cup (2400m) and fourth in the Group 1 Auckland Cup (3200m) in March, having welcomed the mare home from Matt Cumani’s stable in Ballarat in January. Etah James was aboard the last flight out of Auckland to Sydney prior to the COVID-19 shutdown, a move which paid dividends when she took the Sydney Cup first prize of A$739,500 a matter of weeks later.
Despite enjoying a good rapport with Annabel Neesham, who recently commenced training in her own right after previously running Maher and Eustace’s Sydney stable, Lupton has elected to keep the mare in familiar surroundings. “I’ve left her with Ciaron and she’s going to trial this week at Warwick Farm over 1200m. He’s really pleased with her, he’s absolutely raving about her,” Lupton said. “If you want to go to the Melbourne Cup (Group 1, 3200m), it’s ideal to have a dual-state stable which Ciaron and Dave do.”
“I’m sending her half-brother, Jesse James, over to Annabel in a couple of weeks. He’s had a couple of runs and placed both times so he can go over there and she’s happy with that.” “He’s got some real ability so Annabel is very excited.”
Despite being an eight-year-old mare, Etah James has been patiently handled and has raced only 30 times. Although qualified and nominated for the A$8million Melbourne Cup, Lupton has stressed the mare will only venture to Victoria if her form warrants it, with her first run likely to be in the Group 3 Kingston Town Stakes (2000m) at Randwick on September 19.
“I said to Ciaron that I wanted her to stay in Sydney initially because of the COVID-19 challenges in Victoria. “I didn’t want to make the Melbourne Cup the be-all and end-all. There’s good money in Sydney and she’s in Sydney.” Depending on how the mare comes up, the Group 1 Metropolitan (2400m) on October 3 looks a logical target, with the Group 1 Caulfield Cup (2400m) or the A$500,000 St Leger Stakes (2600m) as other feature options. “They sent me a video of her working the other day and she just looks terrific, her action is amazing and we’re very happy at this stage.”
For many years Lupton and his wife Cath ran Flemington Farm in Matamata for the Late Scott Richardson and he credits having access to the property for his patient approach with Etah James and a number of his horses. “She didn’t really start racing until she was a five-year-old, as she had just one run at four, and it gives them a bit of longevity,” he said.
“It takes the pressure off them early when you don’t put them around tracks as three and four-year-olds when their joints are immature and their bones are soft. “You cannot beat a bit of time and a bit of patience and I’ve been lucky enough to do it. A lot of people can’t do it. We were running the farm for Scott and we just gave her the time.”