Karaka Million winners shine at Hastings

Melody Belle (NZ) (Commands) continued her amazing spring with another Group 1 win in Saturday’s $200,000 Windsor Park Plate (1600m), completing a huge day at Hastings not only for her connections, but also for Karaka graduates and Karaka Million winners.

Earlier the same day, her stablemate Avantage (Fastnet Rock) won the Group 3 Gold Trail Stakes (1200m). Remarkably the top-quality pair, trained by Jamie Richards for Te Akau and Fortuna syndicates, are the last two winners of the Karaka Million (1200m) at Ellerslie.

Melody Belle followed her Karaka Million heroics in January 2017 with a Group 1 win in the Manawatu Sires’ Produce Stakes and a Group 2 win in Brisbane. She was below her best as a three-year-old, but this spring she has risen to new heights.

After a first-up win in the Group 2 Foxbridge Plate (1200m) in August, she has completed a Hawke’s Bay spring carnival Group 1 double in the Tarzino Trophy (1400m) and Windsor Park Plate. No New Zealand-trained horse won more than one Group 1 race during the 2017-18 season, but Melody Belle has won the first two New Zealand Group 1 events of 2018-19.

Her Windsor Park Plate performance was dominant. Ridden positively by Shafiq Rusof from her inside gate, she sat just behind the leaders before taking control in the straight.

Melody Belle burst away, opening up a big margin 200 metres from the finish and cruising to victory by a length and three-quarters.

“She’s terrific,” Richards said. “It was a lovely ride from Shafiq again. She’s a horse who just loves racing. She knows she’s good, and she’s got a real swagger.

“This is a dream result. David Ellis buys the horses, syndicates them with Karyn (Fenton-Ellis), and John Galvin and his Fortuna syndicates are a big part of our business as well. Days like this make the early mornings worthwhile.”

Bought by Ellis for just $57,500 at the 2016 Premier Sale, Melody Belle has now won eight of her 15 starts for the Fortuna Melody Belle Syndicate. She has earned over $1.2 million in prize-money – more than 21 times her purchase price.

Completing an all-Karaka trifecta, the $65,000 Premier Sale graduate Savvy Coup (NZ) (Savabeel) ran home strongly into second with $75,000 Select Sale purchase Wyndspelle (NZ) (Iffraaj) third.

Vendor Haunui Farm
Purchaser Mr DC Ellis (Te Akau)
Breeding Commands – Meleka Belle
Sale Lot 395, 2016 Premier Sale, $57,500
Bred by Mrs N M Leicester

In other news Saturday’s $70,000 Group 3 Hawke’s Bay Breeders’ Gold Trail Stakes (1200m) at Hastings was the first leg of the 47th New Zealand Bloodstock Filly of the Year Series, and it has set the bar high with a thrilling battle down the home straight.

Star billing in the lead-up to the race deservedly belonged to last season’s champion two-year-old Avantage.

The Fastnet Rock filly had won five of her six starts including the Karaka Million (1200m) and Group 1 Manawatu Sires’ Produce Stakes (1400m). She was bought for $210,000 by Te Akau principal David Ellis at the 2017 Premier Sale at Karaka, and before Saturday she had already earned her syndicate of owners more than $760,000 in prize-money.

But the locally trained Xpression (NZ) (Showcasing) loomed as a serious threat. She had won two of her three starts, including last season’s Group 2 Wakefield Challenge Stakes (1200m) and a stylish first-up win last month.

They were the top two chances on paper, and that was exactly how it played out on the track. Avantage sat in fourth place on the inside until the home turn, where Danielle Johnson brought her to into the clear and sent her to the lead.

Xpression charged down the outside from last and tackled Avantage at the 200-metre mark, and the two top fillies went to war. At the end of a desperate fight to the finish, Avantage reached out and snatched victory by a short head.

They finished a big margin ahead of the rest of the field, with three and three-quarter lengths back to the third-placed Rocket Fuel (Smart Missile).

“She’s such a racehorse, she’s got the heart of a lion,” Johnson said. “She’s got tons of improvement in her too. It’s only her first-up run, so it’s an exciting season ahead.”

The win took Avantage’s earnings past $800,000 in her seven-start, six-win career.

“The really good horses find a way to get to the line in front, and that’s what she did today,” trainer Jamie Richards said. “She’s a real little racehorse and we love her at home.

“She was the champion two-year-old last season, and she’s come back in great order. The second horse is a serious filly, it was a great race between two very promising horses, and she just toughed it out.”

Avantage takes the early Filly of the Year Series lead with 6 points. The Te Akau colours won the Filly of the Year title in 2013-14 with Costa Viva (Encosta de Lago). The Te Akau-trained King’s Rose (NZ) (Redoute’s Choice) also won it in 2010-11.

Xpression picked up three points with her second placing on Saturday, while Rocket Fuel collected 1.5.

The second leg of the Series is the prestigious $400,000 Group 1 New Zealand 1000 Guineas (1600m) at Riccarton on November 17, for which Avantage is now the $3 favourite.

Vendor The Oaks Stud
Purchaser Mr DC Ellis (Te Akau)
Breeding Fastnet Rock – Asavant
Sale Lot 50, 2017 Premier Sale, $210,000
Bred by Mr W Calder & Mrs K N Calder

A clash of the islands was won by the locals in the first leg of the New Zealand Bloodstock Southern Filly of the Year series, the $50,000 Listed New Zealand Bloodstock Canterbury Belle Stakes (1200m) at Riccarton on Saturday.

Home-town hopes rested with Emily Margaret (NZ) (Pins), a Select Sale graduate who had scored an impressive come-from-behind win in her previous appearance. She stepped up to stakes level on Saturday and faced a much sterner test, clashing with highly rated northern raiders such as Wekaforce (NZ) (Showcasing).

Emily Margaret’s rider Jasmine Fawcett changed tactics this time around, hunting her mount forward to take the early lead. She was joined almost immediately by Wekaforce, and the pair raced side by side for most of the journey.

Wekaforce looked likely to take control of the race in the straight, but Emily Margaret refused to let her past and pulled away to win by half a length.

“It was a good, tough win,” co-trainer Kevin Hughes told NZ Racing Desk. “It was a great ride by Jasmine, as I said we had to use the barrier in a big field like that. With that many in the field, there can be carnage when you get in amongst them, so we were much better in front and out of trouble.

“I thought that Wekaforce was the one to beat and they really set down to a ding-dong battle in the home straight. I know how tough my filly is, so I was hoping she would see it out. She loves a scrap.”

Emily Margaret has now had four starts for two wins, two placings and $48,000 in prize-money for owners Mr and Mrs Rodger Finlay.

Emily Margaret earned 7 Southern Filly Series points with Saturday’s win. Runner-up Wekaforce collected 4 points, with 2 points for third-placed Quattro Katie (Zoustar).

The Series will now pause until the autumn, with the remaining three legs being the Listed NZB Insurance Stakes (1400m) on March 2, the Listed NZB Airfreight Stakes (1600m) on April 6 and the Listed New Zealand Bloodstock Warstep Stakes (2000m) on April 13.

Vendor Trelawney Stud Ltd
Purchaser Mr RJ Finlay (Christchurch)
Breeding Pins – Secret Schillings
Sale Lot 1012, 2017 Select Sale, $55,000
Bred by Archer Equine Investments Ltd