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Image: Te Akau
Avantage heads early markets for the Karaka Million

The Karaka Million is one of the biggest races in New Zealand and Te Akau Stud knows what it takes to win.

Having won with Melody Belle last year, Te Akau is back with five runners for the 2018 edition in what has been a mammoth effort from the team.

It’s tough to get one runner in the field of 12, but the Matamata-based operation will run current favourite Avantage, Al Hasa, Sword of Osman, Pinot Grey and The Real Beel.

We spoke with stud master David Ellis, who is incredibly proud of his Karaka Yearling Sales graduates.

“It’s pretty incredible and I’m incredibly proud and thrilled for my owners that have trusted me to buy the horses for them,” Ellis told “To have five really good chances in the $1 million race is an enormous thrill.

“To have five two-year-olds, that shows me that everything in the saddle is working well, the horses are being fed and worked right because you don’t get the two-year-olds to run for a million dollars unless everything is being done properly.”

The ownership of the five runners is mostly consisted of smaller syndicates, which includes New Zealand media icon Tony Veitch, who has a share in Karaka Million 2YO favourite Avantage.

“We have syndicates of between five and 10 people and to see people like Tony Veitch involved is quite exciting,” Ellis said. “He put a lot of thought in before he invested into our industry.

“To see his filly start favourite 12 months after he invested in her and to see her unbeaten… it’s just bloody exciting and very rewarding.”

Race organisers boosted the prize money for the Karaka Million 3YO Classic to $1 million this year and that’s had a significant impact on what yearlings are chosen at the sales in January.

“I think it does,” Ellis said. “It’s got to when you’re racing for that money. It’s a huge amount of money and we certainly put a lot of thought into it.

“We don’t buy early two-year-olds. We aim to buy a horse we think will mature so we can take them to the 1000 or 2000 Guineas, or even horses that can train on to the Oaks and Derby races.”

One of those horses in question is current 3YO Classic favourite Embellish, which has the Australian Guineas in its sights.

“He’s probably a horse that we’ll take to Melbourne for the Australian Guineas, rather than the New Zealand Derby,” said Ellis, who had recent success in Australia with Rosehill Guineas winner Gingernuts.

“I think he’s more a miler rather than a stayer. He’s got too much brilliance.

“Embellish is now 50 percent owned by Cambridge Stud. After his run in the Karaka Million 3YO we’ll be discussing the horses future and it will be a team effort.”

As for Te Akau’s five Karaka Million 2YO runners, Ellis has already planned the path for two runners in particular.

“A filly like Avantage will carry on to the Matamata Breeders’ Stakes and then the Diamond Stakes (Ellerslie),” he said. “The Reel Beel will do the same and she’s had no luck with the draw (14), but she’s a classy filly from the Eight Carat family.

“Those sort of horses could well have a spell after the Diamond Stakes then head to Brisbane for the Sires’ Produce and the other big races.”

Ellis will be back at the Karaka Yearling Sales this year (January 28 – February 4), but he wouldn’t get into detail as to which quality yearlings were catching his trained eye.

“If I tell you the reserve price will go from $100,000 to $400,000,” Ellis joked. “In saying that, I’ve seen some beautiful yearlings at this sale. Probably the best I’ve seen in 10 years.”

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