Kiwi Chronicles

Dream result as Legarto lands Guineas

A phenomenal finish from Legarto (Proisir), whose chances of victory in Saturday’s Australian Guineas (Gr 1, 1600m) looked hopeless at the 200 metres, realised one dream for her trainers Ken and Bev Kelso and, more than likely, another dream for Rich Hill Stud.

With a handful of horses in work, the Kelsos’ dream of finally bagging an Australian Group 1 could easily have come undone if rider, Michael Dee, had kept to the fence rounding into the long Flemington straight. In hindsight, his decision to move out just short of the straight proved mightily fortuitous. Had he decided to wait for a rails run they would have run right into the incident that brought down two runners at the 300 metres.

Prescient judgement aside, Dee’s decision was not without its problems. “I thought I was behind a horse that would take me through and keep me out of trouble, but I ended up left in a pocket there for quite some time,” said the winning rider. “To Legarto’s credit, wow – she’s got a very, very good turn of foot. To get out when she did and finish over the top of them was an amazing effort. She’s only lightly raced and should arguably be unbeaten. I think she can come back in the spring and could be anything.”

The filly tried for a run at the 300 metres but was shut out. She was still pocketed at the 200 metres, finally found space at the 100 metres and then flew. At the 50 metres she was almost level but travelling too well, swamped the two in front in the last strides.

“She’s just an amazing filly,” said Ken Kelso. “Probably 100 metres out, we thought we were going to run fifth, sixth, seventh or eighth if we were lucky, but she does things that other horses can’t do. She’s pretty special.

“It’s huge. I’ve said that we wouldn’t retire until we got a Group 1 in Australia. We’ve only ever brought Group 1 horses over here, and we’ve had three seconds, so it’s massive to win one. I just can’t believe it,” ended Kelso.

Legarto’s one-race campaign in Melbourne is brief but she is slated to return in the spring. The Kelsos have the Empire Rose Stakes (Gr 1, 1600m) or the Champions Stakes (Gr 1, 2000m) in mind for the filly.

Seven starts have resulted in six wins, the Australian Guineas her second Group 1, having taken out the New Zealand One Thousand Guineas (Gr 1, 1600m) last November. Her sole defeat took place in the Karaka Million 3YO Classic (RL, 1600m) where she was also in heavy traffic at the 300 metres yet, when clear, put in some huge strides to run fourth.

As tempting as it might be to tackle more Australian honours, the daughter of Proisir (Choisir) is going to have a break after two big trips away during this preparation.


Rich dreams

Ask any New Zealand stud master their dream and an Australian Group 1 will be found at the top of their list.

The entire New Zealand industry has become dependent on the Australian racing scene. The mark of a stallion is gaining the attention of the annual troop to Karaka by Australian trainers and owners. That attention is intensified when a stallion’s progeny can cut it against Australia’s best.

As good as Proisir’s season has been here at home (four individual Group 1 winners is a huge feat), Legarto’s performance puts Proisir in new territory.

For Rich Hill Stud the season has been unprecedented, which is saying something because they had more than several special days when foundation sire Pentire (Be My Guest) held court up until 2017.

Among Pentire’s leading progeny was ten-time Group 1 winner and New Zealand Racing Hall of Famer, Mufhasa. Others were the freak, twice NZ Horse of the Year Xcellent, outstanding sprinter-miler Xtravagant as well as Melbourne Cup (Gr 1, 3200m) winner Prince Of Penzance.

Proisir’s Group 1 season began with Dark Destroyer’s win in the Tarzino Trophy (1400m) at Hastings in September. During Canterbury’s November Cup Week, both spring classics, the NZ Two Thousand Guineas (1600) and One Thousand Guineas, fell to Pier and Legarto respectively.

January, at Trentham, saw Levante make it back-to-back Telegraph Stakes (Gr 1, 1200m). Levante also carries the cream and brown silks of Ancroft Stud and is a member of the small team trained by the Kelsos.

From Proisir’s first crop (2016) is Riodini, a Group 3 winner in New Zealand before he was sent to the stable of Gai Waterhouse and Adrian Bott. Riodini paid his way with placings in the George Main Stakes (Gr 1, 1600m) and the Epsom Handicap (Gr 1, 1600m). This season, however, he landed a big prize at Kembla Grange when scoring the The Gong, worth $580,000 to the winner.

Apart from Legarto, Levante, Dark Destroyer and Pier, he has also sired Karaka Million 3YO Classic winner Prowess plus Listed winners Waitak and Soldier Boy, making this a season for all seasons, so far, seven individual stakes winners of 13 stakes (in New Zealand). 

The best part of five months’ racing is still to be enjoyed but with a lead of $1.6 million on the New Zealand Sire Premiership, it is a certainty that Proisir will be crowned Champion Sire, ending an eight year reign by Savabeel (Zabeel).

Another first is that, finally, a Danehill (Danzig) line stallion can claim a New Zealand Premiership. Proisir is a great-grandson of Danehill. Volksraad (Green Desert), a grandson of Danzig (Northern Dancer), was Champion NZ Sire on eight occasions.


Patience pays off

Broodmare owners can take heart that some mares simply take their time to find the right mate and produce the goods. Such is the case with Geordie Girl, a twice-winning daughter of Towkay (Last Tycoon).

Geordie Girl’s sister is twice Group 1placed and dual Listed winner Rapid Kay (Towkay) and her half-sister, Kekova (Elusive City), also won twice at Listed level. Their granddam, Miss Harbour (Sea Anchor) is a half-sister to champion two-year-old Ballybrit (Wandering Eyes).

Geordie Girl’s produce record is a testament of her breeder’s dream, not to mention extreme patience. Retired to stud in 2009, her 2010 foal was dead. In 2011 she produced Locally Sourced by Iffraaj (Zafonic) who won ten races including an open handicap. Over the next five years she produced two foals that had to be euthanised, one that died and one that remains unnamed, before foaling another winner, Emanon, a 2018 filly by Burgundy (Redoute’s Choice) who has won five. 

In 2019 she produced Legarto. The filly was offered at the 2021 NZB Karaka Yearling Sale (Book 2) and realised $90,000, purchased by Philip Brown of Ancroft Stud. A good horse can come from anywhere, it seems, and Legarto is the perfect example.


How much?

It won’t be too long before studs start thinking about service fees for next season and Rich Hill Stud will have some serious calculating on their plate, not only regarding Proisir but also associate sire, Satono Aladdin (Deep Impact).

Nominations have been opened for Proisir and his 2022 fee of $17,500 now looks like bargain basement stuff. Legarto’s hit-and-run performance will not go unnoticed and the stud can expect Australian broodmare owners to be among those wanting to cash in.

Little Avondale Stud’s Per Incanto (Street Cry) has found new appreciation after Roch ‘N’ Horse, Little Brose and Lost And Running made headlines in Australia. For Proisir it will be no different. Better yet is that Proisir is in his prime, has just five crops of racing age and a winners/runners ratio of 61 per cent (134 winners from 219 to race). Apart from 11 stakes winners he has a further 12 stakes-placed performers. 

Rich Hill’s fee-setting head-scratcher is not confined to Proisir. Satono Aladdin has also made breeders sit up.

The Covid pandemic meant that Satono Aladdin did not shuttle to Rich Hill in 2020 so he was not represented at any of this year’s round of sales. Who knows how they might have sold but we can guess. The win by Tokyo Tycoon in the Karaka 2YO Million (RL, 1200m) was emphatic and the outstanding youngster remains unbeaten in four starts. His potential is untapped.

Satono Aladdin’s first crop (2019) includes the Group 3 winners Grand Impact and Sacred Satono, not to mention Japanese Emperor, who ran a fine third in Legarto’s Guineas triumph. Coincidentally, it was Japanese Emperor who hemmed in Legarto and denied her a passage at the 300 metres.

Rich Hill’s Vadamos (Monsun) also sired a Group 1 winner this season, namely La Crique, giving the stud a major hand in the industry.

For the stud, it’s a nice problem to have but Rich Hill’s John Thompson and Karl Mihaljevich have been around long enough and are aware of the issues that breeders must face. Their decision is sure to be properly considered to leave breeders with margin.

From a broader perspective, standing such sires is great for the New Zealand industry. No matter what, we need to give the all-important Australians good reason to keep coming back.


Sharper and smarter

Along with Legarto and Prowess, Sharp ‘N’ Smart (Redwood) is the country’s equal best three-year-old and has a huge future, according to co-trainer, Graeme Rogerson. He just needs to learn to be a racehorse. 

Rider, Ryan Elliot, agrees. “He is just a big kid with so much to learn as coming up the straight he was waiting but then saw the other horses and kicked back strongly,” he said following the pair’s victory in Saturday’s New Zealand Derby (Gr 1, 2400m).

From midfield, Sharp ‘N’ Smart drifted slightly entering the back straight but near the 1000 metres accelerated to be about six lengths off the lead. Approaching the 600 metres he took off three deep, ran up four wide to be poised at the top of the straight and took a narrow lead at the 400 metres. He got away by a length near the 200 metres, went clear at the 100 metres but was challenged late yet, as Elliot commented, kicked when he saw the challenge to win fairly convincingly even though the margin was a long neck.

“I said to Ryan to watch him as he can switch off, as he did in the VRC Derby,” added Rogerson. 

Taking his earnings beyond $3 million, the star is headed back to Sydney and two starts at Randwick, the site of his Spring Champion Stakes (Gr 1, 2000m) victory last spring. There, he will line up in the Australian Derby (Gr 1, 2400m), and, all going well, have another crack at the older horses in the Queen Elizabeth Stakes (Gr 1, 2000m). He has already achieved that milestone with an impressive win in the Herbie Dyke Stakes (Gr 1, 2000m).

Next spring, Melbourne’s riches will be on the radar with a possible trek to Hong Kong. “I’d love to take him to Hong Kong as they have been great to me,” said Rogerson. “I think if he is alright he will be there for the Vase in December. Hopefully by then he learns how to be a racehorse.”


Ben plays major hand

Accomplished horseman Ben Foote had a banner day at Te Rapa on Saturday, saddling up two of the four stakes winners. No one could begrudge him the satisfaction of an overdue win from Babylon Berlin (All Too Hard), especially after a run of four seconds, including three in succession at Group 1 level.

In what transpired to be no more than a training gallop, she bolted away with the King’s Plate (Gr 3, 1200m). She was fourth into stride but by the end of the back straight strode into the lead. Rounding into the straight she was cruising and had them in trouble at the 200 metres, clearing out and never touched by seven lengths for her seventh career win and fourth stakes in 23 starts.

Next up for the flyer is Moonee Valley and the Group 1 William Reid Stakes (1200m) on March 24. The mare is in top form and close seconds to Levante (Proisir) in the Telegraph Stakes (Gr 1, 1200m) and to Imperatriz (I Am Invincible) in the Railway Stakes (Gr 1, 1200m), suggests that she is right there with sprinters who have recently proven competitive in Group 1 company in Australia.

The tight Moonee Valley track will not be an issue. She corners well, handles both left and right-handed routes and the short straight will be right up her alley.

Foote’s second stakes winner, in the Sunline Vase (Gr 3, 2100m), Sakura Girl (Iffraaj) put her hand up for a trip to Trentham for the March 18 New Zealand Oaks (Gr 1, 2400m), her tenacity on show for all to see. 

She sat second (rails) with a lap to run but took over soon after and led by more than a length starting the back straight. Bowling along comfortably, she maintained the lead around the bend but starting the run home slipped clear. At the 300 metres she was more than two lengths clear, was challenged inside the 200 metres, but had too much in reserve at the post for a convincing success.

This was her second win in five starts and her trainer clearly rates her highly. After her maiden win on debut last October, Foote immediately stepped her up to Group 3 class to run sixth in the Eulogy Stakes (1600m) then to Group 2 level in the Royal Stakes (2000m), finishing fifth. Three weeks ago she was second behind the class filly Prowess in the David & Karyn Ellis Classic (Gr 2, 2000m).

Sakura Girl was bred by Soliloquy Lodge’s Richard Moore from his famous Soliloquy (Sobig) family and traces to that wonderful mare via Soltina (O’Reilly), Cappie (Kaapstad) and Soliloquy’s daughter Soltice (Imposing).

Soltina is a half-sister to NZ Thoroughbred Breeders’ Stakes (Gr 1, 1600m) winner Captivate (Stravinsky); Cappie is a half-sister to Otaki Maori WFA Stakes (Gr 1, 1600m) winner Culminate (Elnadim) while Soltice is a half-sister to four stakes winners, including Solveig (Imposing), whose 14 wins included the New Zealand Oaks, the DB 1600 Handicap (Gr 1, 1600m) and the Avondale Gold Cup (Gr 1, 2200m). Iffraaj has sired Derby winners so Sakura Girl has everything going for her.

Foote had the last say: “I think she will lap up the 2400 metres at Trentham. I think she is in the top echelon so we are really looking forward to the Oaks.”