Desert Lightning (NZ) Spectacular in Aotearoa Classic

27 January 2024

A gallant placegetter in last year’s $1m Karaka Million 3YO Classic (1600m), under-rated Karaka graduate Desert Lightning (NZ) (Pride Of Dubai) returned to the Karaka Millions meeting at Ellerslie 12 months later and went two better with a sensational performance.

Desert Lightning (NZ)

Desert Lightning earned himself a place in New Zealand racing history on Saturday as the winner of the inaugural $1m Elsdon Park Aotearoa Classic (1600m). Bought for $150,000 from Book 1 of Karaka 2021, he has now had 16 starts for five wins, five placings and $1.08m in prize-money.

Fourth at Group One level as a two-year-old, Desert Lightning returned at three to win the Group Two Avondale Guineas (2100m) and place in the Group One New Zealand 2000 Guineas (1600m). He also ran third behind Prowess (NZ) (Proisir) in a star-studded Karaka Million 3YO Classic, beating the fourth-placed favourite Legarto (NZ) (Proisir).

Desert Lightning has hit even greater heights as a four-year-old this season, winning last month’s Group One TAB Classic (1600m) at Trentham, and on Saturday he made a bold statement in New Zealand’s newest million-dollar race.

Multiple Group One winner Legarto was again the favourite for the Aotearoa Classic, but this time she ran into a performance for the ages by Desert Lightning.

Rider Vinnie Colgan settled in second as Wessex (NZ) (Turn Me Loose) opened up a massive lead through the middle stages of the race. Desert Lightning had the job of dragging the rest of the field up behind that leader, and he took control in the straight with a devastating turn of foot.

Legarto emerged from the pack and gave her all to try to run him down, but Desert Lightning was airborne. He emphatically held her at bay and scored by a length and three-quarters. Legarto ran second, with seven lengths back to the third-placed Rudyard (NZ) (Charm Spirit). The race was run in an electric time of 1:32.53.

“This is a very good horse,” Colgan said. “His TAB Classic win was outstanding. I know he hadn’t run for seven or eight weeks in between times, but I rode him in a gallop two weeks ago and I knew they had him peachy-perfect.

“I heard George Simon (commentator) say I had them in trouble down the straight, and it put a smile on my face. Legarto couldn’t have caught him today – no way.”

Desert Lightning is trained by Peter and Dawn Williams at Byerley Park.

“It was a great win,” Peter Williams said. “He’s really grown a leg this year. We had a few problems with him last year, but he couldn’t do anything about it. We turned him out for a good spell at the end of the season, and that’s been the makings of him.

“He beat Legarto in the 3YO race on this day last year. No one ever gives him any credit. But I’ve always rated him as a top horse, and Vinnie has too. Everyone in our team has done a great job with him.”

Desert Lightning was bred by the Mahoenui Partnership and was offered at Karaka by Little Avondale Stud.

Runner-up Legarto was a $90,000 purchase by Ancroft Stud from the Book 2 draft of Highline Thoroughbreds at Karaka 2021. She has now had 12 starts for eight wins, two placings and $1.46m in prize-money.

Third-placed Rudyard was bought by Pike Racing for $280,000 from Windsor Park Stud in Book 1 of Karaka 2021. He has earned $221,350 from an 18-start career that has produced four wins and two placings.

Vendor Little Avondale Stud
Purchaser PJ & DM Williams (Auckland)
Breeding Pride Of Dubai – Isstoora
Sale Lot 454, Karaka 2021 Book 1, $150,000
Bred by Mahoenui Partnership