Four years ago a yearling caught Gary Hennessy's attention at the Karaka Sale for $150,000.
"As soon as I laid eyes on him I knew then [he was a winner]," Hennessy said on Saturday after 4-year-old stallion Ocean Park won the $200,000 Makfi Challenge Stakes at Hastings.
" I was always going to buy him," said the Matamata trainer who co-owns the horse with the Hong Kong pair of Stephen Yan and Andrew Wong.
Saturday's win was also Hennessy's first group one acquisition.
"I've been bridesmaid twice and I've run thirds so it's actually a good result for my career as well," said the man who has been training horses from the age of 21.
"Old enough to vote" these days, Hennessy said a group one victory was a long time coming.
Asked why he was going to bypass the remaining two group one races of the annual Rush Munro's Hawke's Bay Spring Racing Carnival to take Ocean Park to Australia later this month, Hennessy replied: "Cox Plate's worth two and a half million dollars [$3.4 million].
"He's nominated for the [weight-for-age] Cox Plate [2040m] or the Caulfield Cup [2400m] but looking at today he could be a genuine Cox Plater," he said of Ocean Park who will jet off to Melbourne for a start in the 1800m A$400,000 ($513,000) Underwood Stakes at Caulfield on September 22.
With the Gai Waterhouse-trained Laser Hawk pipping him in the Rosehill Guineas in Sydney on March 31, Hennessy felt Ocean Park had shown he was as good as any horse in Australia last season.
"Unfortunately, we missed the Derby over there but nothing has gone wrong this preparation," he said. Ocean Park was scratched on the race morning of the Australia Derby in April amid claims the then colt might have been "nobbled".
The discovery of heat in a fetlock joint but a clean bill of health two days later had baffled Hennessy and Australian authorities asked him to back up his claims with evidence.
In Saturday's Makfi Challenge, favourite and defending champion Mufhasa and jockey Sam Spratt had to settle for fourth place as Lisa Allpress powered Ocean Park across the line in 1m 23.79s to prove the pundits wrong.
In doing so, the winning combination collected $125,000 plus the silverware in the premier 1400m race, which was the first of three group one races of the spring carnival.
Darci Brahma still holds the Hastings track record of 1:19.97 set over 1400m on October 1, 2005.
Michael Coleman, on Xanadu, was second ($40,000) by a long neck from Justanexcuse ($20,000), ridden by Kelly Myers.
"At the six hundred [metres] he [Ocean Park] was travelling so easy I wondered where he was going to get a run," Hennessy said as Allpress found herself eyeballing a wall of heels coming around the corner into the home straight.
"It [gap] didn't present itself until a hundred out and then he exploded, which is what he can do."
He and Allpress had formed a good relationship but Australian champion jockey Glen Boss, with 80 group one victories to his name, would ride Ocean Park in Australia.
"You can have the biggest plan out and get extinguished in the first two strides so you have to have the best on and they can make those decisions," he explained.
So did everything follow the script on Saturday with Allpress?
"Look, we had a little luck in the last little bit and he put them away."
Surprisingly, it was only the second group one victory for the 37-year-old Wanganui rider, who was last year's champion jockey, in 16 years of riding in New Zealand.
"I probably haven't had a decent group one ride, so yeah."
Allpress said it often came down to good horses and Ocean Park was always going to be competitive here.
She was resigned to not riding Ocean Park in Australia but certainly not disappointed: "That's racing."
She paid tribute to her family.
"I have a very good support network with my husband [Karl].
"He's a horse trainer as well and we muck around with a couple of horses at home but he's always there with the kids [two boys] when I'm not so we juggle it around that way."
Allpress said jockeys tended to be more hopeful than confident going into group one races.
Ocean Park had trialled beautifully at Taupo on August 7.
"The pace was going to be on here so it was always going to be easier for the back runners. You have to be on the best horse on the day and things have to go right so today things obviously did go right.
"You always have to look at getting on good horses because, generally, a favourite or second or third favourite wins a group one."
Her previous group one victory in New Zealand was on We Can Say It Now in the Captain Cook Stakes at Trentham, Wellington, two years ago.
She has also ridden a group one winner in Singapore.
However, Allpress is effectively redundant for the group one Windsor Park Plate on September 22 and the NZ Bloodstock Insurance Spring Classic on October 6 as the Bay carnival continues.
"I'll be looking for a nice, fast horse for the next two stages."
Allpress also had a win on The Knight in the $30,000 Hastings, Heart of Hawke's Bay Premier race 7 over 1200m.
Hastings trainer John Bary, who led Jimmy Choux to the New Zealand Horse of the Year title last year, prepares The Knight who he co-owns in a syndicate of 11 others.
Bary-trained The Hombre finished 13th in the Makfi Challenge.