Puccini staves off rivals to win the Great Northern Guineas and give Matamata stable overdue piece of luck
It has been a lean season for Matamata horseman Peter McKay, who was seeking a turnaround to his fortunes at Ellerslie yesterday.
Puccini's $100,000 Lindauer Great Northern Guineas victory more than qualifies as a turnaround.
Particularly when Puccini sat three, four and, for a few strides, five wide in the middle stages in the 1600m event.
To hold out Gobi Ranger in the closing stages after such a passage was a stunning effort.
Yet it in some ways epitomised the way the Ellerslie track was racing yesterday - wide was not a total disincentive.
The effort justified the big opinion McKay has always held of Puccini.
"I've thought a lot of him from the start. I thought his effort in the 2000 Guineas [fourth to Atlante] was a top performance. He knuckled over at the start and after being wide on the corner he just kept coming."
McKay had a tip the colt was close to his best form. "Leith Innes rode him at the trials and said he couldn't believe how much he'd improved."
Yesterday, Mark Du Plessis could not get Puccini in close to the rail after drawing an outside barrier.
He switched the colt back to close in at the top of the straight and settled into a decent fight with Gobi Ranger.
"It was a long way down that home straight," said McKay. "I had a look at Danica Guy's horse [Gobi Ranger] and he looked to be going better than my bloke.
"I was sure he'd run past, but my bloke really fought back."
After the barrier trial, Leith Innes advised McKay to point Puccini towards staying races.
"I'd love to win a Derby, but this horse has a stallion pedigree [by Encosta De Lago] and I'd like some group one form from him at shorter distances before the Derby.
"He'll run in the Levin Classic [1600m] in about three weeks then aim at 2000m in the Waikato Guineas."
Cynically, you could say he'll handle the 2000m because he went close to covering that distance yesterday. A neck separated the first two and there was another neck back to Chambord and a nose to Aspen.
Innes suffered a sprained wrist when the favourite, Lucia Valentina, crashed after appearing to strike a heel racing in tight quarters at the 750m and was stood down for the remainder of the programme.
It was the perfect example of how racing luck fluctuates. Trainer Stephen Marsh has been cleaning up lately.
Then yesterday, his unbeaten Procurement found her stall too small and was then checked out of the race.
One race later the highly rated Lucia Valentina crashed.
She appeared to have avoided any serious injury in the fall.