Te Akau Caliburn

Te Akau Caliburn (outside) finishing fifth to Alfarris (inside) at Flemington (Image: Racing Photos)

It's time to 'burn for Te Akau import

Te Akau racing principal David Ellis is a proud and loyal New Zealander who buys, breeds and races the local product with much success at home and on feature-race raids to Australia.

But he too has had his toe in the European waters and last month just the second overseas horse he has bought into arrived at the quarantine facility at Spendthrift Australia Park in Werribee in time to qualify for a spot in the Lexus Melbourne Cup.

That time has come with Saturday's The Bart Cummings at Flemington offering connections their one and only shot of qualifying Caliburn - who is now known as Te Akau Caliburn - for the $8 million race on November 5.

Ellis realises this year might come a bit soon for the import but he said he bought him with a view to the future.

"I knew that it would be a longshot getting him in this year, but I think next year he could win an Auckland or Sydney Cup and get into the race that way," Ellis said on Wednesday.

"He is just the second imported horse I've bought. The only other one I'd bought was the horse called Torcedor, who still might make it over here for new owners.

"I bought him as a yearling and we won some very good races with him including the Vintage Crop Stakes and he ran third in the Ascot Gold Cup and ran second in the (Irish) St Leger.

"He was a very good horse and then we sold him.

"I wanted to buy a proven horse, so we bought this horse Te Akau Caliburn and we're pretty confident he'll make the grade."

Other Australasian big-time racing players have been drawn to buy European stock to Australia in large numbers but Ellis said he will not change his focus in coming years.

"We are very loyal to the New Zealand breeding industry," Ellis said. "We might buy one from Europe every year, but we are strong believers in the Karaka Yearling Sales, which produces the most Group 1 winners of any sale.

"Basically, I like buying the New Zealand-bred horses. We've won a lot of races in Australia and New Zealand and Singapore with them."

As for Te Akau Caliburn, Ellis said reports are that his import is ready to improve sharply on his Australian debut when he was a closing fifth at Flemington in a handicap over 2500 metres.

Ellis has gone close to winning a Melbourne Cup but that was some 26 years ago.

"I ran second with Te Akau Nick (behind Vintage Crop in 1993)," Ellis said.

"He was Gai's (Waterhouse) first Group 1 horse when he won the Metropolitan. We also had a horse Distinctly Secret, who ran sixth (2002) and seventh (2003) in his two Melbourne Cups, so we've had a few chances.

On the eve of one of Te Akau Racing's most important weekends, Ellis laughs that Australian officials might be trying to tell him something.

"In Melbourne on Saturday, Te Akau Caliburn has drawn 16 of 16, while Te Akau Shark has drawn 16 in the Epsom (Sydney) and even in the Flight Stakes, Probabeel has drawn the outside barrier," Ellis said on Wednesday.

"Then you look at Melody Belle, who draws barrier two at home (Hastings) in the Livamol Classic."

Melody Belle is an eight-time Group 1 winner who will come to Melbourne after Saturday for either the G1 Empire Rose Stakes (1600m) for mares at Flemington on November 2 or the Cox Plate at The Valley a week earlier.

Melody Belle could be joined in the Cox Plate by stablemate Te Akau Shark if that horse can live up to his high rating and win Saturday's G1 Epsom Handicap at Randwick.

Probabeel, a $380,000 yearling purchase for Ellis, gets her chance to land a Group 1 when she tackles Saturday's Flight Stakes.