Success in the Group 3 New Zealand Cup (3200m) with Dragon Storm couldn’t have come at a better time for Ruakaka trainer Chris Gibbs. COVID-19 restrictions had a huge impact on all parts of the racing industry, but it’s arguable that nowhere felt it more than Northland, and Ruakaka in particular.
The Level 3 lockdown in Auckland in late winter meant that no horses could travel through New Zealand’s largest city, meaning that race meetings at Ruakaka were called off and preventing Northland trainers from taking horses to Waikato race meetings. “That absolutely crucified us because they wouldn’t let anybody drive through Auckland to get here,” Gibbs said.
“It was a disaster for us to be honest. Everybody else could keep operating to a certain extent. We weren’t even allowed to drive through Auckland. It made it really hard. “The likes of (fellow Ruakaka trainer) Kenny Rae, he took at least three-quarters of his team to be based at Riccarton and he just kept going. He does it quite a bit and he did very well, so hats off to him, but we just couldn’t do that. “But it is what it is, we just move on. We can’t worry about it, we’re looking forward rather than back.”
Partially as a result of the lockdown problems, Gibbs has had just 79 runners to the races this season to date, and registered five wins. Two of those five victories have come via Dragon Storm, who won The Road to the Jericho (3000m) at Riccarton on October 24 before justifying $4 favouritism in his New Zealand Cup triumph.
If ever a horse was bred to stay 3200m it’s Dragon Storm. Unusually given the breeding trend towards stallions with speed, both his sire Shocking and dam Prize Lady won Group One races over 3200m, and Dragon Storm is very much in their mould.
The cup victory should help Gibbs prepare Dragon Storm for the Group 3 Wellington Cup (3200m) and Group 1 Auckland Cup (3200m) in late summer due to his rating being pushed up to the point where he should be guaranteed a start.
“It means that we can set a plan in place and be a bit more selective about what races we go in,” Gibbs said. “Before, we had to just try to get him in to qualify him, and sometimes we had to run him in races that weren’t suitable. “We can work our way back from the cups and really space his runs how I would like to and keep him nice and fresh and bright.”