A relatively unheralded pair of connections had their turn in the spotlight at Hastings on Saturday when Flemington capped a jaw-dropping career turnaround with an upset win in the Lynn Electrical Hawke's Bay Gold Cup. With a strong staying performance a horse that had been a maiden at the start of January became a Group III winner.
Trainer Lucy Tanner described it as the biggest win of her career, and it continued a superb run of form for Cambridge jockey Mark Hills, one of the hardest-working and most underrated riders around. Hills has also had a Group I win aboard Veyron and a Listed win on Mini Pearl so far in 2012.
As well as being the most prestigious and richest race Tanner has won in her training career, what also made this win special was that it justified her long-held belief in the horse's ability. Flemington may be 6, but it's only been this season that he's started to deliver on the potential Tanner has always known he had. He took 25 starts to win his first race, but since then he's won four of his last six. And on Saturday, facing by far his toughest test to date, Flemington delivered by far his best performance.
Hills sent Flemington forward early in the race from his inside draw, and he was in the first three or four throughout the 2200m test.
Flemington swept to the lead at the 300m and looked the winner. But then that began to look less likely with each stride as the challengers started to make their bids. Flemington was under siege from both sides as La Vienne roared home along the fence and Options and Fromelles came charging down the outside. But Flemington summoned another effort, holding gamely to the line. He pipped La Vienne by a nose, with Options a long head away in third.
Even if he doesn't carry this rich vein of form much further, no one can take away Flemington's memorable and tremendously tough Hawke's Bay Gold Cup win. But if this win was a sign of things to come, any horse that looks him in the eye in the home straight of similar races anywhere in New Zealand next season will have a hard time getting past him.
The second, third and fourth placegetters all look set for bigger and better things next season. The way La Vienne, Options and Fromelles finished the race bodes very well for their prospects in some of our staying features next summer.
For a lot of the race, a fairy-tale redemption story seemed a very real possibility. Seaflyte, who literally threw away Hawke's Bay Gold Cup victory 12 months ago when he unseated Patrick Holmes just short of the finish line, made the field for this year's race off the ballot and tried to lead all the way. He kicked strongly just before the home turn and tried hard all the way to the line for a commendable fifth.
Ginner Hart, who starred over the Rush Munro Spring Carnival with an impressive win on the first day and a very good third in the Hawke's Bay Guineas, made a winning return to Hastings with a powerful performance to take out the Edwards & Hardy Wellington Sprint. He unleashed a powerful burst down the outside of the track to overhaul Double Barrel and hometown hope The Hombre to take out the $40,000 sprint feature.
Although there was some disappointment in that result for local fans, Saturday was a wonderful day overall for Hawke's Bay horses. Locals won three of the nine races, with the Paul Nelson-trained Howbadami and John Bary pair The Knight and Jakob Gambino scoring impressive victories. Hopefully Hawke's Bay's hot form can carry through to this Saturday, when Jimmy Choux takes on the Group I Queen Elizabeth Stakes at Randwick.