Just under 12 months ago, a horse came to Hastings and added to a growing reputation of being a perennial placegetter in the big races with a brave third to Mufhasa and Jimmy Choux in the Makfi Challenge Stakes. In 2012, a very different Fleur De Lune will return to Hawke's Bay and attempt to go two better. She's coming to Hastings in outstanding form and on the back of the biggest win of her career.
Going into Saturday's group 3 Foxbridge Plate at Te Rapa, Fleur De Lune - part-owned by Hawke's Bay couple John and Colleen Duncan - was eight times stakes-placed, but had yet to win one. And she had her work cut out in her attempt to break that drought on Saturday - she was facing the strongest field the Foxbridge has seen in years, and she came into the race a little short on fitness after wet tracks hampered her preparation. But she rose to the challenge and overcame those obstacles with an exceptional performance.
The heavily-backed Sweet Suitor set the pace throughout and then went for gold at the top of the straight. Fleur De Lune came out after him early in the run home and surged strongly down the straight. She determinedly repelled a strong bid from Fritzy Boy and a fast-finishing Xanadu to score a well-deserved win and finally shed the label of New Zealand's best horse who hasn't won a stakes race.
This was as good a performance as we've seen from Fleur De Lune, and it looks like she's found some more firepower over her winter break. She could be in for a very big season. After running into one or two better every time for the last 18 months, it might be about to be Fleur De Lune's turn.
What a horse Fritzy Boy is. His performance on Saturday was full of merit and would have been good enough to win a Foxbridge Plate more often than not. He'll head to Hawke's Bay on September 1 to contest the Makfi Challenge Stakes for an astonishing fifth time - he won it in 2008, was ninth in 2009, third in 2010 and fifth last year. And seeing as the Foxbridge Plate was his first start in 10 months, he should take some improvement from that effort and be a real contender at Hastings.
On a day on which it was hard to make significant ground from well back, the performance by Xanadu to take third place was particularly eye-catching. There's some doubt as to whether her current rating of 90 will be enough to get her into the Makfi field, but she looks sure to make her presence felt at some point during the Rush Munro Hawke's Bay Spring Carnival.
The big disappointment in the race was Shez Sinsational, one of the real stars of last summer and the second favourite for Saturday's race. The distance and track conditions weren't ideal and she may have been one of the many victims of a track on which it was difficult to come from the rear.
The undercard races lost a little of their lustre with the scratching of Pussy Willow, but another 3-year-old filly made up for that in spectacular style. As has been mentioned, it was difficult to make ground from off the pace at Te Rapa on Saturday - that is, it was difficult for every horse but Hollywood Angel.
The daughter of Dehere produced an extraordinary finish from well back in the field to sail past all her rivals and saunter away to a 5 length win under a tight hold. This was a monumental improvement over her previous form. If it wasn't a fluke, Hollywood Angel could be one of the better fillies around.
She's one to watch if she comes to Hawke's Bay for the Gold Trail Stakes on September 22.