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Can Imperatriz make it a perfect 10?

8 March 2024 Written by VRC

Alongside her husband David Ellis CZNM, Karyn Fenton-Ellis owns and manages one of New Zealand’s most successful thoroughbred racing operations, Te Akau Stud and Te Akau Racing. With stables in New Zealand, Cranbourne and Singapore, the team is currently enjoying the success of Group 1 champion, Imperatriz.

On the day of the Group 1 Yulong Newmarket Handicap, where their beloved ‘Berri’ will aim to clinch her tenth Group 1 victory, Karyn shares her deep affection for this mare and reflects on what it would mean if she was to win this iconic race.

Tell us a bit about Imperatriz. What is she like off the track?

She’s our queen, a total sweetheart. Everyone who handles her adores her. She’s a very special lass. On race days it’s different, as she knows it’s time to ‘do battle’ and she usually provides a small reminder to our stable rider Opie Bosson when she heads out onto the track – just trying to make sure he’s got his A-game face on, too!

Does she like competing in front of big crowds?

I think Imperatriz absolutely loves a crowd. As she has matured and gone to this level of international recognition, it’s as if she knows who she is. Like the human stars we admire, it hasn’t gone to her head. However, I have a strong suspicion she knows she's quite good at what she does – but there are no diva antics yet!

Does her routine alter much when preparing her for a race like this?

Imperatriz is super intelligent and she knows exactly what she wants to do, or needs to do, and when she has to do it! Trainer Mark Walker and our team know her inside out, and are wise to her. She’s become even more clever as she has matured. We keep her happy and mentally stimulated. However, she knows when it is ‘game on’. Just watch her in the birdcage, she is the consummate competitor and wants to get on with the task at hand, and get that job done. That’s what you love to see in a racehorse. Professional through and through, with a massive desire to win.

Have there been any challenges in getting her ready for the Newmarket?

No, she is a dream to have in the stable. I’m not so sure about the temperature forecast for Saturday, but the professionalism of the VRC and communication about potential weather issues and subsequent planning should it eventuate, have been outstanding.

How do you personally handle the pressure of a big race?

I am the one who ‘walks the box’. I need a blood-pressure check whenever she steps out onto the track, but not for the reasons people might think and not because so many have such high expectations of her. For me it is very simple. I want only the best for her, in every aspect of her life. I know and love Berri on a very personal level, and for me race day is ALL about her and her wellbeing. Not the accolades, or the trophies, I only want the very best for her, the girl that she is. She was under my skin from the moment I set eyes on her when David selected and purchased her (that’s why I bought a share in her) at the Magic Millions Gold Coast sale. She just has the ability to bring great joy to so many – from her owners to the wider public – and we love sharing her so everyone can see what makes her so special.

What do you hope for Imperatriz in the Newmarket Handicap?

I hope that she comes through sound and well, that is always my priority for Berri. Of course we would love to see her salute the judge because of the special mare that she is, and she has won hearts everywhere. We are however very aware of the challenge of the weight impost. Continuing to win, or remain unbeaten this season, at the very elite level of racing in Australia is tough. The competition is fierce and we have huge respect for it. As our trainer says, ‘they don't give away Group 1s in Australia’. We know she will leave nothing out there, and will give her very best.

Do you have any race goals for Imperatriz? One that you would just love her to win?

Imperatriz has given her owners and fans so much excitement. She’s won nine trans-Tasman Group 1 titles, and the most of any horse in the world in 2023 with six wins. She’s defied the odds (maybe not the bookies’) time after time.

Her courage and bravery and sheer will to win every time she competes actually makes me very emotional. She has the heart and tenacity of a lion. The goals for her are to remain happy and healthy and loving what she does. We can ask no more of her than that.

Where did Imperatriz get the nickname, Berri?

I gave her the nickname Berri when she came home to Te Akau Stud after David had bought her. I named her after the actor Halle Berry because she’s smart, talented, witty, stunning, loves the stage and has a huge heart!

Why is Flemington a special place to race?

The rich, iconic history, the warmth of welcome, and the professionalism of the club. Every owner in the world would dream of winning a race on what truly is the ‘hallowed turf’ of racing in Australasia. No wonder it is listed as a national heritage site, a place of national significance. The greats of thoroughbred racing have long been associated with Flemington – Kiwi legend Phar Lap and most of the southern hemisphere’s greatest champions have won there. I also admire the role that Flemington and the VRC play as a catalyst for culture as well as sport, enabling them to form a powerful combination.