Zurella starts brilliantly in Let's Elope

New Zealand mare Zurella (Zabeel) made the perfect start to her Australian sojourn with her victory in Saturday’s $220,000 Group 2 Let’s Elope Stakes (1400m) at Flemington.

The four-year-old was a Group 2 winner in her homeland in the Sir Tristram Stakes (2000m) at Te Rapa in February last year before she finished a nose behind her stablemate (Miss) Artistic in the Group 1 New Zealand Oaks (2400m) at Trentham.

The New Zealand quinella horses make up trainer Shaune Ritchie’s entire Australian raiding party. Miss Artistic raced three-wide midfield while Zurella settled perfectly back in the pack for jockey Craig Newitt in the early and middle stages.

Newitt decided to look for runs through the field from the 500 metres. Saving the ground enabled Zurella to quickly move into contention before she gained a split inside the 350 metres, pouncing on the leaders to score a determined win.

“She was a beautifully-boned filly and she was always going to develop into a beautiful four-year-old mare. She’s right on track,” Ritchie said.

“She has just kept improving as she has got older but she gives us a hard time. She’s not easy to deal with, that’s for sure but it’s all worth it.”

Zurella defeated Hi Belle (Clangalang) by three-quarters of a length while Total Attraction was head further back in third spot. The mares ran the 1400 metres in 1:23.38 on a good (3) track, which included a 34.77-second last 600 metres. Zurella started at $10 on track but returned a dividend of $10.20 to her backers on the Victorian TAB.

Ritchie said Zurella’s ultimate aim was the Caulfield Cup. He intended to give the daughter of Zabeel the chance to win her way straight into the spring classic in the Group 3 Naturalism Stakes (2000m) at Caulfield later this month.

The winner of the Naturalism Stakes will earn automatic entry to the Caulfield Cup field.

“We are trying to get her in the Caulfield Cup,” Ritchie said. “If she comes through this well, she’ll go on to the Naturalism Stakes and hopefully become exempt (from the Caulfield Cup ballot) that way.

“They are only going to get stronger from here on in as we all know. She’s handled herself very well in the shorter grade.”

Zurella’s win was her fifth from nine starts and the $132,000 winner’s cheque took her prizemoney tally to more than $270,000 for her owner The Oaks Stud.