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Molly Bloom signs off on a high

By Richard Edmunds, LOVERACING.NZ News Desk

If Saturday’s Gr.2 David & Karyn Ellis Fillies’ Classic (2000m) at Te Rapa was the final New Zealand appearance for Molly Bloom, the Group One-winning filly farewelled her homeland on a high.

The daughter of Ace High established herself as one of the standouts of her generation in the late spring, scoring scintillating victories in the Gr.1 New Zealand 1000 Guineas (1600m) and the Gr.2 Eight Carat Classic (1600m).

Molly Bloom’s winning sequence was interrupted in last month’s Karaka Millions 3YO (1600m), where she got a long way back, was never able to get into the race and finished seventh behind Orchestral. But she bounced back in style on Saturday, playing a starring role in her first attempt at 2000m.

Jumping as a $2.60 favourite as a heavy shower drifted over the course, Molly Bloom settled in sixth spot and one off the rail for jockey Joe Doyle. She began to cruise forward out wide coming down the side of the track, then pounced as the field straightened for home.

Molly Bloom dashed up alongside the front-running Harlow Rocks, and despite getting her head to the side and drifting inwards through the last 200m, her superiority shone through and she edged ahead to win by three-quarters of a length.

It was a winning reunion for Doyle and Molly Bloom, whose previous race together was the 1000 Guineas at Riccarton on November 18.

“I’m delighted and so grateful to the connections for putting me on,” Doyle said. “She’s an exceptional filly, and these are the types of horses you want to ride. She has bags of class and ability.

“She was the class act in the race today. We got a very smooth run, and then I switched her to the outside and she took off. She probably got there a little bit early, but when you’re on class horses like these you don’t want to run the risk of getting stuck behind horses. She was too strong in the end.”

Molly Bloom was bought by Wexford Stables trainers Lance O’Sullivan and Andrew Scott for $150,000 from Seaton Park’s draft at Karaka 2022. She has now had eight starts for four wins, a placing and $566,800.

Molly Bloom had an ownership change during the week, with prominent Australian owner Ozzie Kheir coming on board alongside the existing syndicate.

“This is a great result for Ozzie, who’s been very keen on this filly since day one,” O’Sullivan said. “I’m thrilled for him. There’s always a bit of pressure in the first race after making a purchase like that, so for her to win the way she did is fantastic. It’s great for her previous owners as well, who have retained a 50 percent share.

“And we’re just delighted to win this race. We’ve known David Ellis and Karyn Fenton-Ellis for a long time now, so it’s certainly a special race to win.”

Molly Bloom will remain in the O’Sullivan/Scott stable for the rest of her three-year-old racing, but she is likely to chase Australian black-type, with potential targets including the Gr.1 Vinery Stud Stakes (2000m) in Sydney and the Gr.1 Queensland Oaks (2200m) in Brisbane. She will then join an Australian stable.

“That’s still to be decided and Ozzie is going to have input on that, but I’m sure she’ll end up with a top Australian trainer,” O’Sullivan said.

Although Molly Bloom is not expected to play any further part in the New Zealand Bloodstock Filly of the Year Series, she has now won three of the eight legs that have been run so far and holds a commanding lead with 28 points. Her nearest challenger is Impendabelle with 15.

Saturday’s runner-up Harlow Rocks earned her first four points of the series, while the third-placed Livid Sky earned two points and now also has a total of four.

Molly Bloom completed a race-to-race double at Te Rapa on Saturday for O’Sullivan and Scott, who had previously saddled Kingfisher to win the Dr John Southworth Memorial Vase (1200m). 

Legarto masters middle-distance in Herbie Dyke Stakes

By Richard Edmunds, LOVERACING.NZ News Desk

Matamata trainers Ken and Bev Kelso have long believed Legarto had the potential to excel over 2000m, and their stable star proved them right on Saturday with a sparkling performance in the Gr.1 Herbie Dyke Stakes (2000m) at Te Rapa.

Legarto was a Group One superstar on both sides of the Tasman as a three-year-old last season. She blew her rivals off the Riccarton track in a five-length New Zealand 1000 Guineas (1600m) romp in the spring, then ventured to Melbourne in March and launched a stunning burst from nowhere to become the first New Zealand-trained winner of the Australian Guineas (1600m) at Flemington.

The 2023-24 season has so far delivered a few ups and downs for the daughter of Proisir. She resumed with a third placing without a lot of luck in the Gr.1 Tarzino Trophy (1400m), then won the Listed Matamata Cup (1600m) before getting too far back in a rough-run Golden Eagle (1500m) in Sydney.

An outstanding first-up win at Ellerslie in mid-January earned Legarto red-hot favouritism for the inaugural Elsdon Park Aotearoa Classic (1600m) on Karaka Millions night, where she was again a victim of circumstances but flashed home for second with the fastest sectional times in the race.

The step up to 2000m in the Herbie Dyke Stakes was always going to be the key to Legarto’s four-year-old campaign, and on Saturday she answered the stamina question in no uncertain terms.

Barrier one had the potential to pose a few problems for the renowned fast-finisher, but regular rider Ryan Elliot managed to get her off the fence and into clear air by the time the field turned into the back straight.

Legarto enjoyed a comfortable run in fourth, one off the rail, keeping the defending champion Sharp ‘N’ Smart firmly in her sights as he sat on the outside of the front-running Mazzolino.

No Compromise made a big mid-race move to take the lead down the back straight after being caught wide, but Sharp ‘N’ Smart loomed on his outside at the 600m mark and had taken command by the home turn.

That was Elliot’s time to push the button on Legarto, and she quickened and went past Sharp ‘N’ Smart with more than 200m remaining.

But there was another stern test to come for Legarto yet, with proven Group One 2000m mare Campionessa sweeping up alongside her. Legarto saw that challenge coming and lifted again, holding Campionessa at bay by half a length.

“Everything went to plan,” Elliot said. “I said to Ken that I would just let her hold her spot, and if I could get her one off, I’d do so. Everything worked out perfectly, and there was just no trouble from 600m onwards.

“She came around the corner and I wasn’t going for her yet – just holding her together. She started pricking her ears and just waiting for them a little bit.

“But once Campionessa came up to her, she really fought hard, as she does.”

Legarto was bought by part-owner Phillip Brown’s Ancroft Stud for $90,000 from the Karaka 2021 draft of Highline Thoroughbreds. Her 13-race career has now produced nine wins, two placings and more than $1.8 million in stakes.

“I’m elated,” Ken Kelso said. “There’s only one downside to it – that Bev can’t be here to witness it. Her health hasn’t been the best. But I’m sure she gave that couch a bit of a hiding at home. It’s just a shame that she can’t be here to enjoy it.

“Lovely ride by Ryan. He got her off the rail early on. I thought he might have gone a bit early, but she won well.

“We never had a chance to try her over 2000m last year, because she had a big season and ended up winning the Guineas in Australia, but it was always the plan to go further.

“She can do things other horses can’t, and she has all the class, and today she showed the staying qualities to knuckle down and win.

“Onwards and upwards from here. It opens up a few avenues, knowing she can go over ground, so it’s very, very pleasing.”

The next of those avenues is likely to be the Gr.1 Bonecrusher New Zealand Stakes (2000m) at Ellerslie on March 9. That is the final leg of the New Zealand Summer Series, which carries a bonus of $500,000 to the winner. Legarto now heads the standings with 13.5 points.

“We’ll probably go to the Bonecrusher, I would think,” Kelso said. “It’s a good-money race here, especially with the bonus, and it’s three weeks before the Australian Cup (Gr.1, 2000m), so it works pretty well.”

Among Legarto’s owners is Tony Enting, who spent 34 years as general manager of the Waikato Racing Club.

“To win this race at Te Rapa is extra special for Mary and I,” he said. “We are very, very lucky to race a horse like her. Ken and Bev have done such a marvellous job with her, they’ve left no stone unturned.”

In a notable family double, Legarto’s Herbie Dyke heroics were followed less than 10 minutes later by her half-sister Emanon winning the $50,000 C S Stevens Memorial Banks Peninsula Cup (1100m) at Riccarton. Both mares are out of the Towkay mare Geordie Girl, and both were bred by Warwick Jeffries.

Deserved Group One breakthrough for Bonny Lass

By Richard Edmunds, LOVERACING.NZ News Desk

One of the unluckiest horses in the top echelon of New Zealand racing in recent times, Bonny Lass turned things around with a supreme front-running performance in Saturday’s Gr.1 BCD Group Sprint (1200m) at Te Rapa.

The $400,000 weight-for-age feature was the first Group One victory for the Super Easy mare, whose long run of misfortune dates back to a raceday scratching from the Gr.1 Sistema Railway (1200m) on New Year’s Day last year.

She returned for another shot at that race a year later and was knocked sideways in the straight, recovering admirably and building back her momentum to surge into second behind Waitak.

The Gr.1 Telegraph (1200m) at Trentham brought more of the same, with Bonny Lass finding herself awkwardly positioned behind a slow pace in a rough-run race. She had to switch across the heels of eventual winner Mercurial, only getting into the clear halfway down the straight and working through her gears to dash into third.

On Saturday the luckless Lass had a deserved change of fortune. Overlooked at $17 odds in a field headed by undefeated three-year-old Crocetti and four other Group One winners, Bonny Lass dominated from the moment the gates opened.

The five-year-old was driven from her outside barrier by jockey Craig Grylls and soon found the lead, and that was where she stayed.

Crocetti sat in second throughout the race and lodged his claim in the straight, eating into the margin with big strides, but Bonny Lass rose to meet his challenge. She pinned her ears back and fought for all she was worth, clinging on to win by a long head.

“The plan was to be positive from the outside gate,” Grylls said. “She jumped better than anything else, and there didn’t seem to be a real torrent of speed. I thought I’d take it up, and I had a pretty soft lead. I felt like I was getting it easy enough, and we all know how game she is.

“She travelled well until close to the 200m, and then I went for her and she had a good kick. I could hear Crocetti coming, but she’s just so determined and kept fighting him off. She deserved that.

“This is very satisfying. I’ve ridden her in most of her starts, right from when she was a two-year-old. She’s such an honest wee girl, and this just tops it all.”

Bonny Lass was bred by Sandy Moore, who shares ownership with Brent and Wendy Cooper and the Social Racing Starting Gates Syndicate. She is trained by Graham Richardson and Rogan Norvall at Matamata.

Bonny Lass has won seven of her 19 starts, placing in another eight and earning $655,900. Her previous black-type wins came in the Gr.2 Matamata Breeders’ Stakes (1200m), Gr.3 Cambridge Breeders’ Stakes (1200m) and Gr.3 Sweynesse Stakes (1215m), and she had been a four-time Group One placegetter in the Railway, Telegraph, Sistema Stakes (1200m) and Manawatu Sires’ Produce Stakes (1400m).

“Wow, I’m speechless,” said Richardson, who added that Bonny Lass might race in Melbourne later this season.

“What a brave ride. It was the right tactic. He dug her out and she just did it all for us. She really deserves this, and so do the owners.

“In my opinion, no horse in the country deserves to win a Group One more than her. She’s been amazing.”

Moore bred Bonny Lass out of his Le Bec Fin mare Posh Bec, who herself won three races and placed at Listed level.

“This is a huge thrill,” he said. “For her to race against such a strong field and hold them all out was incredible.

“I bred this horse and she started out worth about $7,000, and now she’s won more than half a million. She’s been so unlucky in so many races along the way, so I’m absolutely over the moon with this result.”

Those sentiments were echoed by part-owner and syndicate manager Brent Cooper.

“I’ve been racing horses for over 30 years now and this is my first Group One,” he said. “She’s just the toughest, bravest, most beautiful horse I’ve had anything to do with. She gives her best every single time. You couldn’t want a better horse to syndicate.

“She just demonstrates that no matter what level of involvement you have, you can be a part of things like this. There’s a great group of owners involved in this horse who really deserve it, Graham Richardson and Rogan Norvall deserve it, and most of all Bonny Lass deserves it. She’s an absolute rock star.”

Crocetti’s second placing brought an end to his unbeaten record, which had previously stood at seven starts for seven wins including the Gr.1 New Zealand 2000 Guineas (1600m).

Co-trainer Danny Walker commented that his first taste of defeat could not have come at the hands of a better group of people, while owner-breeder Daniel Nakhle was also far from disappointed.

“He’s done us proud,” he said. “Bonny Lass and her connections really deserve that. She’s been so unlucky in a number of races all the way through. We don’t have any excuses today and we’re happy with his performance.” 

Wallen victorious in outstanding Karapiro Classic display

By Jess de Lautour, LOVERACING.NZ News Desk

Promising galloper Wallen produced one of the standout performances on Legends Day at Te Rapa, claiming the inaugural Sir Patrick Hogan Karapiro Classic (1600m) in sensational fashion. 

The Sir Patrick Hogan Karapiro Classic was the third of the five newly-instated innovation races worth $350,000 this season, with eligible horses required to be maideners as of 31 July last year, the day before commencement of the new racing season. 

Wallen, a four-year-old son of Tarzino, was a relative late-starter commencing his career in September last year, though he has impressed at each race-day appearance in finishing third on debut behind race-rival Adam I Am, before three second-placed efforts preceded his deserved maiden victory at Pukekohe in early December. 

Shane Crawford, who prepares Wallen out of his Cambridge base, opted to freshen the gelding ahead of a tilt at the Karapiro Classic, where he entered the race an underrated $17 chance, in a market dominated by Adam I Am ($2.20). 

Wallen jumped leisurely away from barrier seven in the hands of regular rider Ryan Elliot, who was flying high after a Gr.1 Herbie Dyke Stakes (2000m) victory aboard Legarto in the previous race. 

Hastobeawinner took up the dominant front-running role down the back straight while Elliot bided his time near the tail of the 14-horse field, and passing the 800m mark, Wallen had a sizable task on his hands trapped on the fence in last. 

As many runners spread wide turning for home, Elliot remained on the rail and looked to be running into the minors nearing the 100m, before Wallen showed a scintillating turn of foot to chase down a game Hastobeawinner and talented filly Vera Rose to score by a neck. 

An elated Crawford admitted to a few nerves during the mid-stages of the 1600m event, while watching from afar alongside partner Kara Waters in Sydney. 

“I spoke to Ryan this morning and said let’s not change his pattern of racing, just ride him in a rhythm and comfortable. But, at the 800m, I was thinking ‘jeez, where are we going to go from here’,” he said. 

“But it was a cool, calm and collected ride from Ryan, he stuck to the inside which I was happy with, and he got all the splits up the straight. 

“It’s a great thrill for us, certainly money-wise, and also to get the win for Russell (Warwick, General Manager at Westbury Stud) and Gerry Harvey (owner of Westbury Stud) is just huge. 

“I’m just gutted that Kara and I are over in Sydney at the moment for the sales, not able to be there to enjoy the moment.”

Crawford had initially hoped to contest the first innovation race, the $350,000 The Oaks Stud Remutaka Classic (1600m) at Trentham with Wallen, however changed those plans when his rating wasn’t going to be high enough for him to make the field. 

“We had the Remutaka in sight originally, but we realised his rating wouldn’t get him in, so we thought we may be a better chance of freshening him up and going for this race. It had been on our radar for a while,” he said. 

“It was a great effort today with six weeks between runs, but I think another key was putting the blinkers on.” 

While contemplating a spell, Crawford indicated he may consider targeting the $350,000 Rangitoto Classic (1500m) on Derby Day at Ellerslie on March 2, for horses prepared by trainers outside of the Top 10 in domestic stakes earnings. 

“After winning today, we seriously will give some thought to the innovation race on Derby Day, but he has been up a long time, probably a spell would be a possibility as well. We’ll discuss it with Russell Warwick and see what the plan’s going to be.”

Wallen carried the familiar blue-and-white silks of breeder and owner Gerry Harvey, who was represented by Warwick at Te Rapa. 

The victory was one of sentimental value for Warwick, a former employee at Cambridge Stud, as the race was named in honour of the late Sir Patrick Hogan, an incredible figure of the New Zealand racing and breeding industry. 

“That was fantastic, these races are pipedreams, and it’s great for Entain, TAB and NZTR to be able to put a race on like this. The Sir Patrick insignia on this race also makes it very special for me,” Warwick said. 

“Shane and Kara have done an amazing job with this horse. He was probably just about at the end of his preparation, but Shane thought he could get him to this race with a freshen-up and putting the blinkers on.

“Supplemented by a great ride by Ryan, it was superb. I thought (about Ryan) ‘you’ve just won on Legarto so you’re up high now”, and we just hoped he could do it for us too, but he was going to need a lot of luck at the 600m for sure. To get up and win was just fairy-tale stuff. 

“He’s been up since October, and we think he’ll be even better next season getting up over a trip.” 
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