Nathan emerged from his first Cup Week as a stable principal with honour last week.

But also relief.

“Yes there is a part of you that worries a bit about how it will turn out on the biggest days. We had had a good buildup,I was confident we had our ducks in a row with the horses but they are horse races and there are always doubts”

What was once the Mark and Grant Payne partnership, then the prolific Mark and Natalie team; with Mark and Hayden Cullen starring in 2022,Rolleston kept on its merry way with its newest partnership. The tally of four Group Ones was one shy of 2022 but 8 wins in all was ahead of last year’s figures.And while it didn’t feature the NZ Cup,, it included  a  Dominion Handicap the stable had not won since 2012.

“I wouldn’t say Oscar Bonavena’s win was unexpected.His second last workout was great.He actually worked further than 3200m and his closing splits were enough on that to suggest he would be hard to beat. His final workout was not quite in that league but still ok.

We didn’t expect to beat Muscle Mountain but if something went wrong we were in with a chance and unhappily for him something did go wrong.

Major Hot.Nearly produced an upset for Cameron Hart

I don’t know that many people appreciated what a great drive that was by Dad. He had got into a good place but he had about .2 of a second to come out and go forward down the back and that was the winning of the race. To retain that speed in  reaction shows what a great driver he is.

It was the same with Millwood Nike. They set out to beat her and Dad responded.They ended up beating themselves”

The trifecta in the Sires Stakes Final had its surprise element and Franco Indie stepped up to the plate for the first time this season but it was a satisfying few days for Nathan. 

How heavy was the pressure ?

“It was probably a little tougher when I was on my own in Australia with top horses going into big races. Setting horses for big races is the biggest test. You are going along a road to it and something happens and you come to a fork in that road and which way you turn decides the outcome. 

Even over there I had Dad to talk to on the phone  about things which is great  but you have to make your own call  in the end.Winning  those races off your own bat gave great satisfaction. This is not quite the same with Dad right there but he has the gallopers to look after too and the confidence you gained on your own works for you in situations like Cup Week.”

And how about watching others driving the horses you have done so much to get ready for a major race ?

“I don’t mind saying it is not a problem for me when Dad is in the sulky. I know he is going to make the right decisions almost all the time and probably all the time so I am more relaxed then. With outside drivers there are always little concerns that that might not always happen and it adds a bit of pressure. And they are good drivers, outstanding. Unless you are out there all the time you can’t compete so I accept it won’t always go the way I would have wanted it”

Mark drove five of the eight winners .

The times run on Cup Day, slower than usual with some wind but warm temperatures,never bother a winning combination and Nathan is clear on what happened in the NZ Cup.

“The first sectionals were  slower than in the last couple of years. They just didn’t go hard so it wasn’t ever going to be a 3.54 race. Quicker when Swayzee got to the front but then they just couldn’t do anything about it.”

Swayzee’s driver,Cameron Hart, who has created a huge impression in his few Kiwi visits had established an association with Nathan in Australia and Nath remains a No 1 fan. This was evident in the SS Final where Major Hot, who had been slightly disappointing in the leadup,almost stole the Group One feature.

“We are backing him up this week in the Timaru Nursery.The conditions of the race (no more than 1 win) fall into his lap “

Chase a Dream is having a break instead of going to Grand Prix day reflecting perhaps the busy time youngsters have late in the calendar year season.

“It  was a great feeling to win those races.Now  I just have to keep doing it”

Upcoming racing means there is no resting on laurels. But as in many games,confidence is everything. Nathan’s has been boosted by Cup Week of ’23



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