THE Challenge Stakes is one of New Zealand’s most prized feature races and is steeped in history.
Formerly known as the Mudgway Stakes, the Challenge Stakes is the first group one of the season in New Zealand and it is run on the first of three days during the Hawke’s Bay spring carnival in August/September.
The next running of the Challenge Stakes will be on August 26, 2017 and is sponsored by Westbury Stud, which is standing Victorian Derby and Rosehill Guineas winner Tarzino at stud this season. The race has been named in honour of the son of Zabeel which raced for Mick Price in Australia.
The weight-for-age contest over 1400m doesn’t suit every runner that lines up, but most entrants are going for the Triple Crown which includes the Windsor Park Plate and the Spring Classic.
It’s currently worth $200,000 and despite attracting some of New Zealand’s best ever thoroughbreds, the race only gained elite status in 2003 after champion mare Sunline took out the then group two Challenge Stakes in 2002.
The win by Sunline caused a skyrocket in popularity for the race, which was seen as an exhibition gallop for the two-time Cox Plate champion. It has since been taken out by the likes of Xcellent, Starcraft and Tavistock among a long list of champion winners.
Punters love betting on the Challenge Stakes because it follows a tough winter season and punters are keen to see the stars in action during the spring.
Best Challenge Stakes bookmakers
Despite the race being run in New Zealand, the Australian and global bookmakers will offer markets for the Group 1 Challenge Stakes.
It’s one of the highlight races on the calendar and bookies know how important it is to give punters a look at the early futures, fixed odds and tote markets.
2018 Tarzino Trophy result
Recent Challenge Stakes winners
2018: Melody Belle stamped her credentials as a must-watch Kiwi horse after winning the Tarzino Trophy. After taking up an early spot on the speed a number of runners went past the eventual winner but she never panicked, taking the lead at the 200m and gritting it out to record a strong win.
2017: Despite finishing well in the lead-up to the Tarzino Trophy, Close Up wasn’t found by punters. The Shelley Hale-trained eight-year-old ran well over the odds and it held on gamely over group one winner Aide Memoire and last start winner Underthemoonlight. It was a welcome return to the big stage for jockey Grant Cooksley who was nearing the end of his career just a few years ago. The big spring runs came from Gingernuts which flashed into fifth and Kawi was steady to the line in fourth. Read the report here.
2016: Kawi became the second horse to win back-to-back Challenge Stakes when winning as the hot favourite in 2016. The Allan Sharrock-trained gelding was kicking off its Triple Crown campaign and it did it in style, winning by 1.3 lengths over El Pescado and Farm Boy. The field also included subsequent group one winner Mime, the Australian-performed Capella and fan-favourite Hasselhoof. Kawi’s bid for the Triple Crown was derailed by the abandonment of a key lead-up race.
2015: Kawi scored the first of its two Challenge Stakes victory by the same margin. It scored by 1.3 lengths over a quality field and it handled the wet conditions much better than the rest of the field. Jockey Leith Innes had the gelding in a good spot before running on and kicking clear in the straight. The well-favoured Ryan Mark finished in second after battling well and Ginner Hart ran well for third. Out of the placings was Karaka Million winner Vespa and future Australian winner Turn Me Loose.
2014: I Do was the first of three consecutive winners for trainer Allan Sharrock and this win was tinged with sadness. The popular grey ran in honour of the late Lisa Chittick, who was married to Waikato’s Stud Mark Chittick, and it won in style. The daughter of No Excuse Needed was best suited to wet tracks, but it made the best of the dead track conditions by holding on over Pussy O’Reilly and subsequent group one winner Pure Champion.
2013: Survived gave the locals a strong victory in 2013 when the John Bary-trained runner scored a one length win. The gelding, which now races in Australia, relished the heavy track conditions to score over a talented field. Opie Bosson was aboard the son of Zed and the form stood up nicely having beaten the likes of Final Touch, Sangster and Taurus.
2012: Ocean Park was a popular winner for punters in 2012. The Gary Hennessy-trained runner was the talk of the town prior to winning and it stamped its authority before later winning the Cox Plate at Moonee Valley. The star colt scored by a half-length over Xanadu with 2011 winner Mufhasa running in fourth. The Challenge Stakes was run on another rain-affected track, but it took nothing away from a quality race from a future superstar stallion.
Notable Challenge Stakes winners
The Challenge Stakes is synonymous with champion winners and the list is a lengthy one.
Tavistock won in 2009 before becoming a top stallion in New Zealand and Australia. That win came only two years after Seachange scored the second of its back-to-back victories.
The speedy mare won a total of 14 races during its 25-start career and its consecutive Challenge Stakes wins were two of the highlights.
Xcellent scored an excellent win in 2005 before running third in the Melbourne Cup later that year. Its come-from-behind victory was one of the best seen at the Hastings track.
Sunline was the most popular winner in recent history. The champion mare won on its ear in 2002 in what was considered to be an exhibition gallop. The McKee-trained runner was on the pace and Tit For Taat was left chasing a shadow in the straight.
The race was subsequently upgraded a group one status following the win of Sunline.
Other winners include the likes of Snap, Surfers Paradise, Rough Habit, Flying Luskin (the first of the McKee’s three Challenge Stakes wins) and Poetic Prince.
Challenge Stakes past winners list
2018 – Melody Belle
2017 – Close Up
2016 – Kawi
2015 – Kawi
2014 – I Do
2013 – Survived
2012 – Ocean Park
2011 – Mufhasa
2010 – Keep The Peace
2009 – Tavistock
2008 – Fritzy Boy
2007 – Seachange
2006 – Seachange
2005 – Xcellent
2004 – Starcraft
2003 – Miss Potential
2002 – Sunline
2001 – Fritz
2000 – Cent Home
1999 – Hero
1998 – Batavian
1997 – Pakaraka Star
1996 – Vialli
1995 – Marconee
1994 – Snap
1993 – Calm Harbour
1992 – Surfers Paradise
1991 – Rough Habit
1990 – Flying Luskin
1989 – Catering King
1988 – Poetic Prince
1987 – Field Dancer
1986 – Catering King
1985 – Shagolvin