Rich Hill Mile to La Etoile

La Etoile (black cap) bursts through to nail Mill Duckie (green and gold) and Panama (gold cap). Kenton Wright

From a seemingly hopeless position, last on the home turn, La Etoile (4 B. M. Thorn Park – Desert Wine, by Deputy Governor) weaved a path through the middle of the pack with a scintillating finish to snatch victory in the $100,000, Group II, Rich Hill Mile (1600m) at Ellerslie on January 1.
Last in a seventeen horse field and a conservative dozen lengths from the leader at the 600 metres, even co-trainer Roger James admitted “I didn’t think she could win on the turn”.
But La Etoile and jockey Craig Grylls had other ideas as they tracked up behind the leading division before bursting through between runners at the 100 metre mark to claim Mill Duckie (Magic Ring) near the line.
Such was the momentum by La Etoile that she gained a long head margin on the line.
“It was an inspired ride by Craig as the plan was to work forward behind the pace, but in saying that I thought it would be a good tempo, so all credit to him and the filly”, said James.
For Grylls the win followed on from a marvellous end to the year, having ridden four winners on an eight race programme at Stratford the day before.
Regarding options from where his was at the rear of the field aboard La Etoile, Grylls said, “I was thinking about coming around them at the 600 metres, but she was going so good I decided to save ground and when she poked through at the 100 metres she took off.”
In a tight finish, Panama (Traditionally) was half a length back in third, a nose ahead of fourth placed Dancing Jess (Danske), while only two lengths separated the first eight across the line.
Unfortunately, the race was contested without the favourite Run Like Al (Al Akbar) who became fractious in the starting gates and was late scratched.
The mile was covered in a sizzling time of 1:34.19, last 600 metres in 33.89.
Coincidentally, Corndale (King Delamere), trained by Roger James, still holds the New Zealand record for 1600 metres when clocking 1:32.08 at Ellerslie in 1993.
Trained at Cambridge by Roger James & Paul Mirabelli for The Skews Family Trust, La Etoile was purchased by James for $70,000 at the 2007 New Zealand Bloodstock Premier Yearling Sale from the draft of her breeder, Chequers Stud.
Her dam Desert Wine was unraced, but she is a full-sister to the dual group one winner of fifteen races and over half a million dollars Hero, while their dam, Domino (Grosvenor), won the 1990 AJC Oaks and banked $651,168.
Progeny from Desert Wine had also previously been purchased at auction by Bart Cummings, Demi O’Byrne from Ireland, and Dominic Li.
Mark Skews felt they were lucky to get La Etoile so cheaply as she had a couple of minor issues leading up the sales and was a ‘a touch underdone’.
From the time of winning her Maiden by five and a half lengths at Te Aroha at only her third start, La Etoile has always appeared to be destined for top class.
At her very next appearance she finished fourth to Daffodil (No Excuse Needed) in the 1000 Guineas at Riccarton, a placing James felt could have been improved on with a touch more luck.
She finished fourth in the group three Doomben Roses and third in the group two Queensland Guineas at three, and her record currently stands at five wins from sixteen starts with stakes earnings of $212,027.
La Etoile carries the Vieux rose with black stars, sleeves and cap of Harry Skews, grandfather of Mark Skews.
Skews said, his father Kevin had instilled strong values concerning the welfare of horses.
“We’re here for the horses, their well-being comes first, that’s what dad taught us”, said Skews.
James said he would like to contest the $200,000, Group I, Thorndon Mile with La Etoile at Trentham on January 30, with the possibility of running in the Listed Anniversary Handicap over a mile at Trentham on the Saturday prior.
First contested in 1964 when known as the George Adams Mile, the Rich Hill Mile is now firmly established through the generous sponsorship of John and Colleen Thompson at Rich Hill Stud.