The Black Leopard winning at Sandown. Photo: Pat Scala/Racing Photos
Group One winning trainer Henry Dwyer has fond memories of the Warrnambool Carnival and he is hoping to conjure some more when Kiwi import The Black Leopard (NZ) (Ekraar) contests one of Wednesday’s features, the Listed Warrnambool Cup (2350m).
A young Dwyer would often follow his late father Mick on the annual pilgrimage to the ‘bool and watched as his father enjoyed one of his most satisfying moments just weeks before he died.
“As kids we grew up going down there,” Dwyer said.
“Dad was a big racing fan, not necessarily hands on but for as long as I can remember he was going down there for his annual pilgrimage in May.
“He had a horse called Tinamou, which Dad part-owned, and they’d set him for the Warrnambool Cup as every one of those owners in that horse wanted to win a Warrnambool Cup, as we do.
“Lo and behold, Tinamou came out and won that Warrnambool Cup in 2011 and it was pretty special as Dad passed away three or four weeks after that.
“I think he slept with the Warrnambool Cup that night and it was one he could tick off his bucket list before he passed away and obviously if we could do it with The Black Leopard, it would be special too.”
A son of Ekraar and Group Two winning Lord Ballina mare Nikisha, The Black Leopard was a trial winner as a four-year-old in New Zealand for Cambridge horseman Ben Foote.
With Dwyer struggling to fill an order for a black horse for owners Peter and Robyn Collins, the striking near-black gelding (officially brown) fitted the bill and has now won four races and been placed on five occasions in 15 starts for Dwyer.
“Peter had been at me to find him a black horse,” Dwyer said.
“Pete and his family have got a skincare range called Black Leopard skincare products and he wanted a black horse to call Black Leopard to advertise the range.
“I had no luck trying to find him something, but I often get emails across my desk from various bloodstock agents in New Zealand which is them sending us horses they think might suit over here.
“There was a horse over there that had had a couple of trials and in the back of my mind I was thinking about Pete’s black horse and I thought he might fit bill.”
With the Warrnambool Carnival run without its usual passionate crowd over two days this year instead of the normal three due to Covid-19, the atmosphere will be a little different, but Dwyer is confident his charge will give a good account of himself.
“He won terrifically well at Sandown three weeks ago with Will Price in the saddle,” Dwyer said.
“We went to Terang and we were always going to struggle to beat Too Close The Sun from where he was back second-last on the fence.
“He only really got out the last 400 (metres) and obviously he’s a stayer and they can’t pick up and sprint and pick up 15 lengths in the space of 400m, he did as much as he could from where he was.
“He handles the wet, he’s looking for further, there’s a heap in his favour going to Warrnambool.
“I think he’ll give a really good account of himself. I’ve always wanted to win a Warrnambool Cup and this is the horse that can hopefully go close to doing it.”
The Black Leopard is rated a $9 chance on Wednesday in a market headed by Terang Cup winner Too Close The Sun at $3.