A horse bought as a 60th birthday present qualified for the Melbourne Cup and gave the Gangi family its first city winner in the VRC St Leger Stakes at Flemington yesterday.
Daniel Gangi and his father, Neil, waited 18 years to savour their greatest moment on the track when Vatuvei, trained by Peter Moody, powered home to land the 2800m feature.
Gangi was overcome with emotion as he recalled how he bought, as a birthday present for his father, one of 10 shares in the son of Reset, who cost $150,000. "This is a dream come true," Daniel Gangi said.
"Me and Dad have had 20 horses over 18 years and never had a city winner so we're pretty excited."
Vatuvei rewarded the Moody stable after they finished second in last year's St Leger with Almodovar, who won the William Newton VC Handicap (2600m) yesterday.
Vatuvei, who last start was third in the Listed Galilee Series Final (2400m) at Mornington, was strongly fancied and ended up $4.60 favourite after Galilee winner Backbone drifted from $3.80 to $5.
King Of The Forest, as the pacemaker, ensured a genuine staying test for the 3-year-olds which helped make the race for the backmarkers.
Luke Nolen had Vatuvei positioned in the last four most of the way but early in the home straight he had reached the lead.
He came away with Practiced ($9) to fight out the race, outstaying his rival to win by 1 lengths while About the Journey ($51) finished 11 lengths away third.
"He got to the front a bit too soon but it was a good staying effort and he certainly loved the soft ground," said Moody, who described Vatuvei as a work in progress.
"We have been patient and let him come along at his own speed and it's nice to see it come to fruition today."
Vatuvei is now qualified for the Caulfield Cup and the next two Melbourne Cups but Moody isn't making any bold plans just yet.
He said Vatuvei was most likely to be spelled but he was keeping the Queensland Derby in June open as an option should he recover well enough from yesterday's win.
Earlier on the card, well-bred filly Arctic Flight looked destined for stardom after adding to her handy record with an impressive win.
The 3-year-old, who is closely related to Black Caviar, made it three wins from just six starts when she led all the way to land the Peter Armytage Handicap (1200m).
The long neck victory over Toned followed her last-start win at Caulfield where she wore blinkers for the first time and romped home by more than three lengths on April 9.
"She is really switched on now that she has the shades on," jockey Craig Newitt said.
"She is pretty versatile and has got a good future."
Trainer Mick Price said he was committed to making the filly a stakeswinner which would make her "priceless".