New Zealand news briefs

Levante on track for next Group One challenge

Two days after her superlative win in the Gr.2 Westbury Classic (1400m) at Ellerslie on Karaka Million night on Saturday, exciting four-year-old Levante was enjoying a relaxing morning in her paddock at the Matamata property of her trainers Ken and Bev Kelso.

Ken Kelso cut a relaxed figure at the National Yearling Sale at Karaka on Monday, as he discussed the victory and future plans for the Proisir mare who electrified the large on-course crowd at Ellerslie with her last to first performance.

“She has pulled up very well after travelling home and heading out to her paddock on Saturday night,” Kelso said.

“It is always an advantage if you can get them out in the paddock and she licked her bowl clean on Sunday morning.

“She will have a couple of days off as she doesn’t run again for three weeks, but she seemed to have come through it very well.”

While Kelso was delighted with Saturday’s result, he and most racing fans weren’t feeling as confident halfway through the race as Levante struggled to keep in touch with the field and looked in a world of trouble.

“I think that was as good as I’ve seen from her in the end, but I made it pretty clear I was worried when she couldn’t seem to go with them early on,” he said.

“I think with the pace on she got out of her ground and was flat on the corner, so I had my eyes closed and I thought we were in deep trouble.

“When she got a flick with the stick, she just got lower and lower and it was almost like hitting the turbo button in a car.

“She’s gone to the line with her ears pricked and has done it pretty easily in the end.”

Kelso will now turn his attention to a rematch with class racemare Avantage in the Gr.1 BCD Group Sprint (1400m) at Te Rapa on February 13 after Levante finished third to the six-time Group One winner in the Gr.1 Sistema Railway (1200m) at Ellerslie on New Year’s Day.

“I think the Group One at Te Rapa is next for her,” Kelso said.

“She’s at that point now where you can’t avoid the good ones, so we’ll take them on there.

“The three-week gap from her last run is ideal and the 1400m suits.

“We haven’t got any plans past that as we have always said we take one race at a time with her. 

“I think she still has some maturing to do and will be a better horse for her next campaign, but she has a few options for us to have a look at.

“I do think she will be very effective at a mile, especially with some pace on, so we could possibly look at the Breeders’ Stakes (Gr.1, 1600m) at Te Aroha in the autumn.”

While Kelso will continue to adopt a patient approach with his charge, the lure of an Australian campaign is on his mind.

“I think she would be suited in Australia with the way their races are run, but we would love to get a Group One with her here before we think too much more about heading over there,” he said.

“We haven’t discussed anything past here, but I know that conversation will come up at some stage.

“The owners are having a great ride and getting a real thrill out of her, so long may it continue.”

While the Kelso’s are thriving on the challenge of developing the career of their stable star, they are also enjoying a strong run with other members of their boutique team including promising Redoute’s Choice mare Les Crayeres.

“We’ve got some nice horses around us including Les Crayeres, who is a lovely mare,” he said.

“She got beaten the other day, but I think she will go through the grades, while Shoshone and Limentis are both nice horses.

“We don’t have a big team, normally about twelve or so, but they keep us busy which suits us just fine.” 

Levante, picture Trish Dunell

Threading a path to the Oaks

Needle And Thread had her crowning glory at Ellerslie on New Year’s Day when taking out the Gr.2 Royal Stakes (2000m) and now trainers Stephen Autridge and Kris Shailer are wanting to extend her reign.

The Valachi Downs trainers are trying to thread a path towards the Gr.1 Al Basti Equiworld Dubai New Zealand Oaks (2400m) at Trenthan in March, with the Gr.2 David & Karyn Ellis Fillies Classic (2000m) at Te Rapa next month a likely next target.

The daughter of Makfi, who is raced by her breeder Valachi Downs principal Kevin Hickman, had four races in the space of a month, culminating in her New Year’s Day victory, and her trainers said she has taken no ill-effects from the concentrated schedule.

However, Shailer did admit to being concerned about backing up from her fourth-placing in the Gr.2 Eight Carat Classic (1600m) on Boxing Day.

“If you looked at her you would say ‘how did she do it?’ She’s not a big, strong filly and we were actually a bit worried about the seven-day back-up,” he said.

“But it was pretty impressive. To win like that from a seven-day back-up we were pretty happy.”

She had a quick freshen-up after the race and Shailer said she has thrived since returning to their Matamata barn.

“She has just kept improving and she is eating and doing better now than she ever has,” Shailer said.

“From New Year’s Day onwards she hasn’t really missed a beat.”

The New Zealand Oaks remains her next major goal and a trip to Te Rapa in a fortnight is on the cards for her resuming run.

“At this stage she will go to the Fillies Classic at Te Rapa in February,” Shailer said. “We will go race-by-race. The main goal is the Oaks, but whether she makes it there is not the be-all and end-all.”

Shailer has been just as pleased with stablemate Lilly’s Lady, who finished 4-1/2 lengths in arrears of Needle And Thread when runner-up in the Royal Stakes.

“She hasn’t missed a beat either,” Shailer said. “She is a tough filly who has always thrived in the stable. That was only her third start, so to do what she did was good.”

Lilly’s Lady may also head to Te Rapa next month, however, Shailer said they are endeavouring to keep the fillies apart in the lead-up to the Oaks.

“We are trying to split them, but we are finding that a bit tough,” Shailer said.

“She may go to Taranaki for the fillies race (Listed Fasttrack Insurance Oaks Prelude, 1800m) there, or to Te Rapa as well. 

“She is another who is on an Oaks path and we will take it race-by-race with her as well.”

Meanwhile, Shailer is looking forward to Trentham on Saturday where Group Three winner Communique will attempt to add an elite-level victory to her resume when she contests the Gr.1 Harcourts Thorndon Mile (1600m).

The daughter of Redwood pleased her connections with a fresh-up fourth-placing at Tauranga earlier this month after placings in the Gr.2 Coupland’s Bakeries Mile (1600m) and Listed Spring Classic (2000m) in the spring.

“It was a really good run first-up carrying a big weight (62kg) on ground (Dead6) she didn’t really like,” Shailer said.

“We will be taking on Melody Belle (on Saturday), but there are only nine left in it before withdrawals. 

“A Group One placing would be great for us.”