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Celebrating the Boxing Day Races | A chat with Rob Wellwood, 26 years old and a Group 1 winner

The SkyCity Christmas Carnival is always one to remember, but 2020's edition was even more so for Robert Wellwood.


Robert, training in partnership with Roger James, took out the day’s feature race, the Group 1 Cambridge Stud Zabeel Classic, with quality mare Concert Hall making a late effort to seize the win.

Robert Wellwood, co trainer of Concert Hall.

For Robert, who was just 26 years old at the time, the win was his first at Group 1 level and the race was won in front of the largest crowd we’ve seen at Ellerslie for almost a decade.


We sat down and chatted to Rob in advance of this year’s event to try and get a inkling of what that win felt like.

 

Let’s cast your mind back to Boxing Day 2020 – what was the atmosphere like? It was the biggest crowd at Ellerslie for almost a decade…


A raceday at Ellerslie is a special day any time you get to go there but SkyCity Boxing Day especially. Given most people (just not those in the racing industry!) are on holiday and everyone makes a good effort to get dressed up, it always has a special feeling when you arrive at the track and walk oncourse.



How did you feel leading into the race? Did you think she was a real chance?


I certainly thought she had a chance at winning the big race but any race is hard to win, let alone Group Ones, on a day like Boxing Day. You really do have to have everything go your way. It’s certainly very nerve racking. I did feel it was probably my best chance of winning a Group One since I had been in partnerships with Roger so I was hopeful for sure.


WATCH the 2020 running of the Group 1 Cambridge Stud Zabeel Classic below:

Can you describe what it felt like to watch her chase down the leader and ultimately get her nose in front and win the feature race on a day like Boxing Day?


It was super special and as you say, with the big crowd up there looking down, it sends shivers down my spine even now thinking about that day. At the 200m mark I probably didn’t know we were going to win and she really dug deep. It was just a very, very special day.


"It sends shivers down my spine even now, thinking about that day"
Concert Hall after winning the day's feature race.

And to have it be your first Group 1 at the young age of 26 – it’s such an achievement – how did you celebrate that evening?

I honestly can’t remember what we did! It’s such a busy time for us that there isn’t too much time to celebrate in the middle of the season but I’m sure we made up for it at some point.

Does Boxing Day and the Zabeel Classic hold a special place in your heart now?

It certainly does and funnily enough in my first year of training in partnership with Roger (James), Hypnos won the Uncle Remus Stakes on Boxing Day and that was my first stakes winner so the SkyCity Boxing Day Races have provided me with a few ‘firsts’.


It really is one of the greatest days in New Zealand racing.


Robert at the SkyCity Boxing Day Races in 2020, after his win in the Group 1 Cambridge Stud Zabeel Classic

You’ve been described as one of the ‘new guard’ of the New Zealand racing industry. How would you like to see the industry develop over the next few years, having been fairly stagnant for some time?


I’d love to see some of the other clubs move to do what the Auckland Racing Club and Counties Racing Club did, joining together and doing things for the greater good, rather than focusing on the individual wants of the clubs.


I think it has clearly worked with Auckland and it’s amazing turning up to the races now with that extra bit of prize money. It goes a long way for owners, trainers and jockeys alike.


I’d love to see a bit more synergy with all participants in the racing industry for the greater good I suppose.


Who is your favourite racehorse and why?


Favourite-ever (that I haven’t trained) is Black Caviar. She’s a big reason I became so passionate about racing. I had a good friend that was riding her over in Melbourne and let me know about her even before her first start so, I followed her right from start one through the next 25 unbeaten races. She really intrigued me and I would love to find my own ‘Black Caviar’.

The legendary Black Caviar. Image credit: Racenet

What’s the best piece of advice you’ve received and who was it from?


I’d have to say it’s just to enjoy the good times, whether it be racing or life. Any success or achievements, you have to enjoy it.


We all know that life, both inside and outside of racing it doesn’t always go right so when it does happen for you, you’ve just got to savior it and appreciate it.

It’s a mentality I actually learnt from Roger (James). Earlier on, I was probably quite hard on myself when we weren’t travelling so well and it’s easy to take it quite personally and he would always say chin up, and to make sure you enjoy it when it does go right!

Robert and Roger, co-trainers at Kingsclere Stables

If you weren’t a trainer, what do you think you’d be doing?


I studied finance at university so probably would have gone down the banking track.


If you could go to the races anywhere in the world, where would it be?


I’d love to go to the Arc de Triomphe at Longchamp. I’ve been to Longchamp before but not for that raceday so it’s definitely on the list!

Longchamp

And finally, what’s your favourite Ellerslie raceday and why?

It would be very hard to split it between the SkyCity Boxing Day Races and the New Zealand Bloodstock Karaka Million. Both are very good racedays for different reasons.


Boxing Day is that traditional raceday where everyone dresses up, it attracts a good crowd and it’s great racing.


The Karaka Million is a twilight meeting so a bit more fast-paced and for me personally, it means a lot of my Australian friends are here from over the ditch which makes it fun. It’s a really great party and a great spectacle of racing too.



We thank Rob for his time in what we know is a busy part of the season and wish him the best of luck for any runners he has over the SkyCity Christmas Carnival.


 

The SkyCity Boxing Day Races are going to look a little different this year due to Government regulations around the COVID-19 pandemic. For more, click here.


If you can't make it oncourse this year, never fear! We're bring the Boxing Day Races to you with a selection of great SkyCity Christmas Carnival content on our blog.

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