Doyen of New Zealand bloodstock breaking new ground with Torcedor
David Ellis hopes Navan winner can emulate dam's brother Yeats
The tangerine and navy blue silks of Te Akau Racing are among the most famous in New Zealand racing, having been borne by numerous high-class horses including Te Akau Nick, who became Gai Waterhouse's first Group 1 winner as a trainer in The Metropolitan at Randwick a quarter of a century ago this year and finished runner-up to Vintage Crop in the Melbourne Cup in 1993.
They could become a lot better known in Europe, too, judging by the convincing victory of Torcedor over Order Of St George in the – note the irony – Group 3 Vintage Crop Stakes at Navan on Sunday.
The five-year-old gelding is trained by Jessica Harrington for Te Akau Stud maestro David Ellis along with fellow New Zealand breeding grandees Sir Peter Vela and Sir Patrick Hogan, champion Singapore trainer Laurie Laxon and Canadian Mo Moussa.
He may have had a fitness advantage over Order Of St George on Sunday, but he is an improving horse in the care of a trainer who can seemingly do no wrong at present so it would be no great shock if he maintained his superiority over the reigning champion in the Gold Cup at Royal Ascot.
It promises to be a good season for the Kiwis in Europe as Vela is also the owner of last week's Craven Stakes winner Eminent.
Torcedor was bought by Ellis – a perennial leading purchaser at the sales in Karaka – with BBA Ireland for €70,000 when he was the first lot through the ring at the Arqana August Yearling Sale in 2013.
"I attended Deauville with some of my best friends and owners, and prior to the sale we had visited some beautiful vineyards in France," says Ellis. "I'd always wanted to start buying yearlings in Europe and do on a smaller scale what we do so well in this part of the world.
"In New Zealand I buy around 50 horses annually and put small partnerships together to race them. The strategy has helped Te Akau Racing to be the six-time champion stable in New Zealand - and also now in Singapore, where we established an operation in 2010."
Among the Te Akau success stories are recent Classic heroes Gingernuts and Xtravagant, saddled by the operation's resident trainers Stephen Autridge and Jamie Richards; leading New Zealand sire Darci Brahma; and the country's 2,000 Guineas winner and Derby second, Rock 'N' Pop.
Torcedor is by Rock 'N' Pop's sire, the eminent shuttle stallion Fastnet Rock, and is closely related to the most distinguished European stayer of the new millennium. It was that pedigree that drew Ellis to the yearling at Arqana.
"The horse is by one of the great stallions in this part of the world in Fastnet Rock and we've had so much success with that sire," he says. "I was at Royal Ascot to see Yeats win his fourth consecutive Gold Cup and it was noticing that he was out of Yeats's sister Magnolia Lane that initially captured my attention in the catalogue.
"I was also fully aware that he was bred by one of Europe's finest breeders in David Nagle and, as an individual, the horse sold himself. He was an attractive colt brimming with athleticism who I could envisage developing into a good stayer."
The race name at Navan may be an incidental detail to most, but for Ellis it evoked memories of an important horse in his career.
"It was ironic that my first runner in a Melbourne Cup was in 1993 with Te Akau Nick and we ran second to the great Vintage Crop," he says. "It was the first year that a European horse had travelled to the southern hemisphere to contest that iconic race, so he is a horse that had quite impact in our lives and I'll always remember him."
A prolific purchaser of champions who has served his industry by sitting on the board of various racing and breeding associations, few accolades have eluded Ellis, a doyen of the sport in New Zealand. Except, of course, that Melbourne Cup - to avenge Te Akau Nick's defeat by Vintage Crop.
Ellis is playing his cards close to his chest as to whether Torcedor will eventually join the Te Akau stables in Matamata with the aim of filling that void in the CV. "We're just looking forward to heading to Royal Ascot for the Gold Cup and will make further decisions after that commitment," he says.