A Kiwi horse with humble breeding is starting to make waves in Australia.
Cross Talk, a son of Keano, recorded his fifth win and first at stakes level in the Listed Winter Challenge (1500m) at Rosehill on Saturday for trainers Gai Waterhouse and Adrian Bott.
“He is an exciting galloper,” Bott told RSN.
“He has probably progressed through the grades a little bit quicker than I anticipated. We didn’t originally have him down to run in stakes grade just yet but with the change in the weather and the program, that is the way things fell.
“The strength of the win in that grade so early on in his career caught me a little bit off guard.”
His Randwick trainers are now eyeing some lofty targets for the five-year-old gelding, including the Group 1 Doncaster Handicap (1600m) as a long-range option, a race won this year by fellow New Zealand-bred Mr Brightside, who arrived from New Zealand with a similarly unexposed profile.
“The Doncaster could well be the perfect target for him in 12 months’ time,” Bott said.
“He has still got a bit of physical improvement to come. I guess these slower maturing New Zealand horses do get better with racing and with age.
“We have looked after him to this point, so over the next 12 months we can start to step him up now and test him at that better grade and I feel a big target like that is still 12 months away.
“We might look to bring him back at the back end of the carnival where a race like the Villiers Stakes (Group 2, 1600m) at the end of the year that would set him up nicely for a Doncaster going forward.”
Cross Talk was purchased out of trainer Debbie Harris’ barn after his debut win over 1200m at New Plymouth last year and Bott said they are always on the lookout for quality Kiwi-bred horses.
“We are always looking for opportunities to secure prospects like him,” he said.
“He only had the one race start but that was enough with the data and the times and ratings to suggest that he was going to be a well above average horse that would fit in well over here in Australia.
“We were able to secure him for a group of owners that were looking for some tried horses and he came over from New Zealand with plenty of room to move in the ratings and grades and we have been able to take him slowly through that progression.”
Bred and initially raced by Kerry Caldwell and Greg Whitham, Cross Talk was a fortuitous mating, with his dam initially covered by ill-fated stallion Eighth Wonder.
“The mating was never meant to happen,” Caldwell said. “My friend Greg Whitham and I were in partnership with the horse. Greg had borrowed the mare and went to Eighth Wonder and she lost the foal.
“Jeff (Bliss, Sentry Hill Farm) was remating the mare but Eighth Wonder had died. He had Keano, so she went to Keano.
“I said to Greg that I would take the mare home and we would go halves.”
At Caldwell’s Taranaki farm, Four Winds Stud, he had to call on his seasoned horsemanship to ensure Cross Talk survived foaling.
“When he was born he wasn’t breathing, so I had to give him mouth-to-mouth,” Caldwell said.
Cross Talk remained at Caldwell’s property where he did all of the early handling before he was weaned.
“I did everything with him until he was eight months old and then he went to Greg’s because he wanted a paddock mate for a horse up there.
“When he was old enough he went to Debbie Harris, who did a fantastic job with him.
“We brought him home and put him on a steep hill for four or five months, then he went back to Debbie.”
While he showed promise at a young age, Caldwell said they were surprised with how well he performed at his early jumpouts and trial.
“He did well in a jumpout and then we took him down to Waverley for a jumpout and he went like a rocket there and then he went to a trial at Waverley and did well there again,” he said.
“We decided he would start in New Plymouth. He raced on Saturday and I think there was an offer in on Monday from Phill Cataldo.”
While he would have loved to have continued to have raced the gelding, Caldwell said the offer was too good to turn down.
“Debbie had a share and another friend of ours had a 10 percent stake in him for racing,”
“We were going to have some fun but when the offer came through it was too good to turn down.
“I personally would have liked to have kept him for a little longer, but how much racing do you have to do to earn that sort of money?”
Caldwell said Cross Talk was a pleasure to handle and his likeable nature was warmly welcomed by the Waterhouse-Bott stable.
“He is a cruisy horse to handle,” Caldwell said. “He had only been there (Waterhouse-Bott barn) a week or two and he was already a stable favourite, he is just so cruisy.
“The mother was called Mrs Cross but we called her Cuddles because she was a real sweetheart to handle and this guy has been much the same.”
While he no longer remains in the ownership, Caldwell said he and his family are having an enjoyable time watching his endeavours across the Tasman.
“We are following him, and the family that aren’t interested in horses are following him big time,” Caldwell said.
“The kids said that if he gets to one of the big ones, they will be there.”
Caldwell had planned on retiring from breeding, but he and Whitham have decided to continue with Jade Citi, a Citi Habit half-sister to Cross Talk.
“I had given up breeding as I got injured,” he said. “I am coming up 73 and six years ago I got my hand crushed, I was a part-time farrier and I can’t hold a hammer anymore, and a sheep took me out and blew the ligaments in my knee.
“Cross Talk was going to be the last, but we have his half-sister who we have sent to Keano, and the resulting foal will be a three-quarter sibling to him.”