Touted as a near racecourse certainty, excitement machine Catalyst lived up to all the pre-race hype when he scorched to a stunning victory in the Group 1 Al Basti Equiworld New Zealand 2000 Guineas (1600m) on Saturday.
The Darci Brahma three-year-old had been backed into microscopic odds prior to the race and punters who took the $1.20 on offer never had a moment of worry once rider Troy Harris cleared a pocket early in the run down the long Riccarton home straight. Successful on four occasions since suffering defeat in his debut run at Te Rapa last season, Catalyst had characterised his winning performances with a devastating home straight sprint. He took that to another level this time as he put three lengths on his rivals in the space of a few strides as he burst clear at the 300m.
The Clayton Chipperfield-trained galloper put the result beyond doubt in a few strides with Harris afforded the luxury of easing him down over the last 100m as he defeated the late closing Harlech with Sherwood Forest battling strongly into third. Harris had nothing but praise for his mount as he made his way back to the winner’s enclosure. “I’m just a passenger, the lucky guy who gets to ride him,” Harris said. “I knew I wasn’t going to lead and wanted to conserve him just in case he didn’t get the mile. “He just showed you can ride him anywhere and he will win. I was actually panicking turning for home as he was travelling too good. “I had to say whoa whoa but as soon as I got out, he just went bang. “He’s just one of the boys, you could go out and have a drink with him on a Saturday night as he just goes with the flow. “It’s a special moment.”
Chipperfield was quick to admit he had been feeling the pressure leading into the race and was simply glad it was now all over. “Christ I am glad that is over,” he said. “He’s been the talk for the last three months and holy hell that is a lot of stress. “I am absolutely chuffed that we can relax now.” Chipperfield had been comfortable with the way the race had panned out although there were some anxious moments when he thought his charge may have become pocketed on the fence. “I was happy he didn’t end up in front and he ended up in a very good position,” he said. “Coming to the straight I was just hoping for a little bit of room. Lucky it is a nice long straight and he has got that turn of foot that he has shown. “Once he buffeted his way out and balanced up, he fired away from them. “That’s what superstars can do.”
The Oaks Stud General Manager, Rick Williams also admitted he had been on edge before the race. “I think it’s the most worked up I have been at a race meeting,” Williams said. “I thought he should win, logic said he should win and then he got in a bit of an awkward spot. “He is a special horse and is very good. “He turns three next Saturday and he still looks unfurnished to me but he’s a freak of a horse and I’m glad Dick is here to lead him in.”
Bred and owned by Oaks Stud owner Karreman, who was on hand to lead the gelding into the Riccarton birdcage after the race, Catalyst has now won five of his six career starts and just under $435,000 in stakes earnings. The race was a triumph for Karreman’s The Oaks Stud with runner-up Harlech also a product of his resident stallion, Darci Brahma who took out the 2005 edition of the 2000 Guineas amongst his five Group 1 victories.