Catalyst primed for bold Australian debut

Catalyst
Star New Zealand three-year-old Catalyst. Photo: Trish Dunell

Rick Williams is predicting a career-best performance from star New Zealand three-year-old Catalyst in Saturday’s Group 3 CS Hayes Stakes (1400m) at Flemington. Williams has guided the racing stock of Cambridge’s The Oaks Stud for Queensland owner Dick Karreman for the past 18 years, overseeing the career of champion mare Seachange among a host of Group 1 winners. Karreman was also a part-owner of five-time Group 1 winner Darci Brahma, who has forged a successful stallion career at The Oaks Stud, among his stock is November’s Group 1 New Zealand 2000 Guineas (1600m) winner Catalyst.

Williams believes the Clayton Chipperfield-trained Catalyst is on track to be better than his dad. “He’s more talented than Darci Brahma, he’s got more brilliant acceleration,” Williams said. “You have a look through the 200m sectionals of his win at Ellerslie first-up and how fast they are – and that’s knowing he wasn’t at his best.”

After a slow start to the Group 3 Mr Tiz Trophy (1200m) at Ellerslie last month, Catalyst was able clock a sizzling 43.87-second last 800m of the race that saw him break 11 seconds for three consecutive 200m splits from the 800m to the 200m, equating to a world-class 32.19 600m burst that paved the way to his sixth win from just seven starts.

Now the task is to transfer that form to Australia. “Any horse that travels is at a disadvantage and we’ve seen that with the good Aussie sprinters that have come over here and been beaten. It’s been a long time since an Aussie horse won a Group 1 race over here,” Williams said. “But he’s got the perfect temperament to do it because quite simply nothing bothers him. He’s settled in over there like he hasn’t even left home and we think he’s due a career-best performance on Saturday. “He’s a much-improved horse physically from where he was in the spring. He had a healthy blow after Ellerslie and that run should improve him and everything he’s done since suggests that will be the case. “Damian Lane came out and galloped him at Mornington this week and gave him the thumbs up and Clayton said he couldn’t be happier with him.”

Catalyst will start from the outside barrier of eight on Saturday with champion Sydney-based Kiwi jockey James McDonald pinch-hitting for Lane, who is suspended for this weekend but returns for the ride in the Group 1 Australian Guineas (1600m) at Flemington on February 29. “I’d rather draw eight than one. It gives us options if they slow up midrace,” Williams said. “On ratings, him, Alligator Blood and Dalasan look better than the rest but it could develop into a tactical race. They might try and get away with a soft lead on Alligator Blood and if that happens, it might be better to go up and sit alongside him. But we’ll just see how he jumps.”

Williams expects Catalyst to be at his best once he gets to 1600m and perhaps even 2000m, but he is optimistic his star galloper can match it with his highly-touted rivals over 1400m this weekend. “Right now, if we can finish within a length of Alligator Blood, we’ll know we’re on track for the Australian Guineas because we meet on set weights there.”

Catalyst is part of a strong racing team for Karreman, who could have even greater numbers in training shortly with a change in focus from selling yearlings at the sales to developing them into trading commodities as up-and-going racehorses. “It’s a bit of a shift. We’re finding the trading market is better than the yearling market for us right now,” Williams said.

“This fella was a bit different because he was a late foal and he had a cyst on his off-fore pastern which meant he could have failed some vet tests at the sales. “But he showed exceptional ability from the start. Dick wants to have a bit of fun on the racetrack, both here and in Australia, and he’s getting that with Catalyst.”