A return trip yesterday from Wellington to Auckland proved more than worthwhile for Ron Dixon when he left Ellerslie racecourse in the afternoon with a double, including the day's $50,000 feature with Hera.
The talented 2-year-old lived right up to her hot favourite's label with a consummate performance in the Graeme Thomson Jewellers Great Northern Foal Stakes, providing Dixon and his wife Fran with yet another big winner from the Roger James stable.
Little more than an hour later, Dixon was raising his glass again after Royal Tiger, in whom he is a one-fifth share-holder, made it two wins from two starts with a gritty win in Rating 65 company.
"I woke up in Martinborough this morning, drove back over the Rimutakas to the [Wellington] airport and flew up to Auckland," Dixon said.
"With the weather we're having I wasn't sure it was the right thing to do, but I'm pretty happy now."
Weather concerns were shared by James, who was feeling anything but confident about Hera's prospects given the very heavy conditions.
"You never know when it comes to such heavy ground, even if you are favourite," James said as the field for the 1400-metre race lined up.
Any concerns proved groundless as Hera gave Matt Cameron an armchair ride in touch with the pace and then lengthening to stride clear and withstand the brave challenge of second favourite Devour. That took her record to two wins and three placings from her five starts and set James a poser as to what he does next with the good looking daughter of O'Reilly.
"She's not really a 2-year-old and needed a little bit more time earlier in the season," James commented.
"I was hoping she would manage ground with the cut out of it and it's a bonus to hear Matt say she didn't have any problems with that ground out there today.
"What I do now with her I'm just not sure. As always I'll get her home and assess her, but it could be that she'll keep going.
"There are other races we could consider with her so we'll just wait and see."
The near 25-year James-Dixon partnership has produced a host of big-race successes, headed by New Zealand Derby winner Hades, Adelaide Cup winner Cronus, Avondale Cup winner Tethys and Sir Tristram Fillies' Classic winner Kaatoon.
"Roger has won a lot of races for us, but this one is slightly different," said Dixon. "I stand to be corrected but I think it's our first stakes win with a 2-year-old."
Dixon shared a humorous sidelight to Hera's background, recalling how he had secured her as a Karaka yearling.
"I thought we had her bought when the bidding got to $14,000, but there was this guy who wouldn't go away and pushed us all the way to $28,000.
"Roger rang me the next day to say the same bloke had been in touch to see if he could take a share in the filly, but I said no way, because of him she cost me double what she should have!"
It was survival of the fittest at Ellerslie for the Davina Waddell-trained Kidnapped, his real ability was on show in the Tip Top Trumpet 1400.
The 6-year-old son of Handsome Ransom was allowed to roll forward by rider Shane Dye before he drove his mount past the well fancied Donna Diva to win by three quarters of a length on a testing Heavy10 track, running the 1600 metres in 1m 30.61s.
"I just left the tactics up to Shane today," said Waddell. "He's not a bad horse, he's won on all sorts of going now."
The brown had been tried on heavy ground only once for a last start third at Avondale and Waddell explained why the gelding will appreciate the softer conditions this winter.
"He's very flat-footed and has had problems with his feet on the harder ground," says Waddell. "These softer conditions are more to his liking."
Kidnapped is now the winner of five races and Waddell believes he's more switched on now. "He wants to be a racehorse now so hopefully he'll kick on from here. He comes into his own over the longer distances so we have our fingers crossed."
In his previous campaign Kidnapped raced predominately in staying events, which included a 3200-metre Rating 85 race at Trentham late last year.
Donna Diva fought well after looking the likely winner halfway down the straight, while Abeautifulred ran on well for third, indicating she is getting closer to the form she showed earlier in her career.