Costa Rolfe



Costa Rolfe: Mark Twain to reprise Cup account?

Author Mark Twain famously wrote about the Melbourne Cup in 1895. Could a New Zealand stayer of the same name be plotting a course toward the 2023 renewal?

Mark Twain's next chapter

Visiting Australia in 1895, author Mark Twain described Flemington’s Cup carnival as a frenetic, ‘delirious’ spectacle after which racegoers ‘’count their gains and losses… order next year’s Cup-clothes, and then lie down and sleep two weeks.”

Coincidentally, two weeks of bedrest would have likely been the minimum prescribed for Twain or anyone else who had an each-way wager on his namesake in Saturday’s Group 1 New Zealand Derby at Te Rapa, taken out in impressive fashion by New Zealand’s latest star stayer Sharp ‘N’ Smart. 

As the Rogerson-trained Sharp ‘N’ Smart was charging to his third career Group 1 win, Mark Twain the horse was busy finishing just out of the money in a fourth so eye-catching, it has surely earned the son of Shocking a place in blackbooks both sides of the Tasman Sea. 

The way Mark Twain finished off out wide after getting a long way out of his ground was reminiscent of another son of Shocking, I’m Thunderstruck: Twain may have fathered American literature, but the 2009 Melbourne Cup winner is siring racehorses equipped with a serious turn of foot. Both are, of course, equally noteworthy achievements. 

Next month’s Australian Derby looks a logical target for Mark Twain should trainer Roger James and Robert Wellwood and owners OTI Racing decide to press on with their lightly-raced stayer. The gelding does also shape as a prospect capable of being competitive in this spring’s features, and perhaps emulating his sire in claiming the race that is “supreme” and “has no rival” (fairly sure Twain penned those words in the pre-Peter V’Landys era). 

A quick word on the winner Sharp ‘N’ Smart: he is seriously good and seriously tough, with seemingly no bottom to his stamina reserves. More Group 1 victories await, especially when you consider that two of his elite level wins have come despite travelling wide throughout.

A murky two-year-old picture

This year’s Golden Slipper pecking order remains as uncertain as ever after close finishes in both two-year-old races at Randwick on Saturday. 

Red Resistance’s condition may have just given out at his first run for five weeks in the Todman when worn down by Godolphin’s determined Exceed And Excel colt Cylinder, so the first two home comfortably earn pass marks. 

Make that the first three, as the Dundeel colt Militarize could be the one that continues to progress this preparation despite Saturday’s 3.3 length defeat. The 1400 metres of the G1 Sires’ and the 1600 metres of the G1 Champagne look well within his scope. 

But just as with the narrow Reisling Stakes finish, in which the Justify filly Learning To Fly exhibited good tenacity to dig deep and deny Facile, no Australian two-year-old has been able to truly separate themselves from the pack so far in 2023. 

Could the Blue Diamond winner Little Brose, the son of another surging New Zealand-based stallion in Per Incanto, be underestimated once again come March 18? 

A G1 first for Kimura

An upset in Sunday’s G1 Frank E Kilroe Mile Stakes (1600m) at Santa Anita as the double-figure chance Gold Phoenix speared between runners for jockey Kazushi Kimura to upset the warm favourite Hong Kong Harry, who faded late into fourth. 

It was Canada-based Kimura’s first Grade 1 win in the United States after previously achieving successes north of the border in the E.P. Taylor Stakes and Woodbine Mile.

Kimura’s rise through the Woodbine jockey ranks was touched upon by Asian Racing Report’s David Morgan in his feature on Kimura’s fellow Japanese ‘expat’ jockey Daisuke Fukumoto, as the two pursue riding careers outside the more conventional structure of the JRA, or the alternative ‘slog’ of the dirt NAR circuit. 

Twice Woodbine champion jockey, Kimura’s big moment was the second leg of a Santa Anita double after scoring on another double-figure chance in Left Hand Man earlier in the program.


Russian Emperor appears to have gone to a new level since being campaigned overseas by Douglas Whyte, and backed up his big win in Qatar with an unlucky late-closing fifth in the G1 Jebel Hatta at Meydan.

While the challenge posed by Japan’s impossibly talented Equinox in the Golden Shaheen will likely prove too stiff a test, the Galileo gelding has more than earned his shot at a race of this quality. With few programming options available to a high-class staying horse in Hong Kong, could globetrotting be a more permanent aspect of Russian Emperor’s future?

Ride of the weekend

For all his obvious ability, when it comes to race day many stars must align for Artorius to cross the finish line in first place. Enter Zac Purton, who wasn’t taking no for an answer from the enigmatic entire. 




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