By Jon Lees
New Zealand: Five years after he showed his first glimpse of top-class potential in Britain for his first trainer David Brown, Royal Performer has finally cracked it at G1 level – 11,000 miles away in New Zealand.
At the age of eight, the chestnut gelding ran out the surprise winner of the G1 Herbie Dyke Stakes at Te Rapa on Saturday to record his fourth win from seven starts in NZ at odds of 19-1.
But he started off in Britain, though you might not realise it as he was called Turn Tide in his early days. The son of Medicean won three of his first five races, finishing fourth to 2016 2,000 Guineas winner Galileo Gold on his second start and landing a £50,000 all-weather 1m handicap at Wolverhampton first time out as a three-year-old debut in the colours of owner John Fretwell.
That victory proved to be Turn Tide’s final start in Britain as connections received an offer from Hong Kong that was too good to refuse. Renamed Royal Performer, he raced in the territory for three seasons for trainer Caspar Fownes with only modest success.
Now, however, in New Zealand in the care of owner-trainers Jenny and Bob Vance, he has enjoyed a turnaround in form – and that has not come as no surprise to his original trainer David Brown.
“We always thought he was a good horse,” said the 76-year-old. “We started him off in the lowest race we could find which he won. Then we set him up for the 50k race – and I expected him to step up even higher.
“I thought he could have been a Guineas horse but we didn’t get a chance to go as far as we wanted because we got a good offer. I only gave £22,000 privately for him originally so we sold him. He did all right in Hong Kong, he won and was placed, but at eight it’s something else to win a G1. I’m not really surprised but I had expected him to do it earlier in Hong Kong!”
Ridden by Jonathan Riddell, Royal Performer took his career record to nine wins from 26 starts amassing the equivalent of nearly £500,000 in prize-money in the process.
He defeated the 2019 winner The Chosen One by two lengths with local favourite Melody Belle, who was attempting to break the NZ record of 13 G1 wins that she holds with mighty mare Sunline, a well-beaten ninth of ten.
In so doing, Royal Performer realised a career ambition for Bob Vance to train a G1 winner. “What can I say, I just can’t believe it,” said Vance.
“I knew he was a good horse, but he got the perfect run. He was only gelded 16 months ago and when he came back from Hong Kong, we were very lucky to get to work with him.
“He’s had a lot of chiropractic work and Jenny does all the intricate details, as I just ride him. He is such a lovely horse to work with and you’d love to have more like him. It’s my first Group 1 as a trainer. Although Jenny has trained a couple, I never won this race as a jockey either, so I’m delighted to get this result.”
Brown has been involved in horse racing most of his life but didn’t take out a training licence until 2008; his best horse Frederick Engels was also sold to Hong Kong after victories at Royal Ascot and in the G2 July Stakes in 2011. He announced plans to retire two years ago but instead relocated to smaller stables in Whitby, North Yorkshire.
“I was retiring,” he explained. “I didn’t want to have as many horses but Ron Hull, a good friend of mine, said I could train his horses and I’ve ended up with around 20. We had a brilliant year last year and were about fourth in the league of percentages [21 winners at 22 per cent]. It’s a nice amount to give us something to think about.”
• More news from New Zealand at the NZ Racing Desk website