A first-time winner at Group Three and Group Two level in his previous two starts, Puntura took his career-best campaign to even greater heights in Saturday’s Gr.1 Harcourts Thorndon Mile (1600m) at Trentham.
Even before the start of this breakthtaking breakthrough season, the Taranaki gelding had been a grand performer for his owner-breeders Carole and John Lynskey. He had won eight of his 28 starts, including three in Queensland, and had banked more than $230,000 in stakes. But it turns out that he was just getting started.
Puntura’s incredible summer kicked off with a dominant front-running performance in the $250,000 Gr.3 Coupland’s Bakeries Mile (1600m) at Riccarton on November 15. A month later he stepped down to 1400m, switched to weight-for-age and dropped out to third-last during the running of the Gr.2 Manawatu Challenge Stakes at Trentham, but he unleashed a powerful finish to prevail again.
Saturday brought another new challenge, stepping up to the elite level and taking on the likes of last-start Gr.1 Zabeel Classic (2000m) winner Campionessa, Gr.2 Rich Hill Mile (1600m) hero Habana and Sydney Group Two performer Skyman. But for the third time in a row, the Robbie Patterson-trained Puntura raised his game to a whole new level and continued his dream run.
This time, regular rider Craig Grylls took up a position in second, sitting on the outside of the pace-making El Vencedor. Puntura was travelling effortlessly coming up to the home turn, and Grylls decided not to hold the big six-year-old back. He let Puntura roll forward and take command, angling out into the better ground in the outside half of the home straight.
El Vencedor fought back bravely towards the inside through the final 400m, with longshot South Island raider Lady Telena launching a remarkable late burst into third, but Puntura could not be caught. He maintained his advantage with powerful strides through the final 100m, winning the $400,000 feature by a length and a quarter.
“This is just the best,” Grylls said. “Over the last couple of years I’ve struck up a really good partnership with Robbie Patterson on the track, and we’re awesome mates off it as well. That was just an outstanding result.
“Right from the jump, he was hard on the bridle. Coming up to the turn, I thought I should try to get out wide before everyone else did. He had a really good kick in the straight, and I knew from about 150m out that it was going to take something pretty good to pass him.
“He’s built to this. He’s been good in Australia, and then he’s come back and won a Group Three, a Group Two and now a Group One.
“He’s a gentle giant. He’s a big and strong horse, but an absolute gentleman to ride.”
Puntura headed a landmark result for Mapperley Stud stallion Vespa, who was credited with his first Group One winner and is also the sire of the third-placed Lady Telena.
From 33 starts, Puntura has now recorded 11 wins and four placings, earning in excess of $705,000 for the Lynskeys.
“This is massive,” said Patterson, whose other runner in Saturday’s Thorndon Mile field was the fourth-placed One Bold Cat.
“The Lynskeys put a lot into racing, and this is a very good horse. People might have doubted him early on, but now he’s won a Group Three, a Group Two and a Group One in succession. He’s a beautiful animal and he deserves it. He’s a big, strong horse, a dominant horse, and he dominated that race today.
“Winning the Thorndon Mile is special. It’s something you dream about as a kid. It means a lot.”