If you want to break your Ellerslie maiden is there a better way than with a group one?
No. John Morrell took his first win on New Zealand's premier racetrack with Ryan Mark in yesterday's $200,000 Sistema Railway Stakes.
And it was a breathtaking victory that worried winning jockey Opie Bosson but not Morrell, despite his desperation to win Ellerslie's major sprint.
"I thought Allez Eagle had us beaten," said Bosson as he dismounted. "But he dug deep, my bloke, and we just managed to get our head in front."
Morrell played it much cooler in the official presentation out of the rain in the Winners' Bar.
"When I saw that other horse [Allez Eagle] kick hard to the 200m I knew Opie would pick my bloke up and carry him."
Morrell told the presentation his one previous win at Ellerslie had been less than memorable.
"I've won a race here, but it went over the line without a jockey on its back."
Morrell has done a marvellous job with a horse that has knee issues - Ryan Mark's earnings now stand at $334,135. Because of his knees Ryan Mark is often unable to perform on very firm surfaces.
"I called the club several times this week [to get them to put more water on] and tried to talk to Cameron George [who was standing a metre away] and I got the course manager who said he'd pass the message on.
"I called back on Thursday and the course manager said: 'I've asked Cameron and he's said 'no'. I tried, but the weather took care of it."
Natuzzi put in another brave run when running in strongly from the back of the field to finish third.
Morrell has been bringing horses to Ellerslie for more years than he cared to remember, but on every occasion before yesterday he had gone home without a winner.
The Taupiri dairy farmer was confident he had more than a runner's chance on this occasion with the final piece of the jigsaw falling into place as persistent rain softened the Ellerslie track surface.
Morrell was full of praise for Bosson who retained his perfect strike rate on the son of Thorn Park, having now won four from four on the gelding.
Bosson bounced the race favourite out of his inside barrier draw and settled beautifully on the outside of pacemaker Allez Eagle for the duration of the race.
Allez Eagle tried to slip his rivals at the corner as he put a length on Ryan Mark, but Bosson soon rallied his mount back on level terms as the pair set down to fight out the finish.
Ryan Mark dug deep to lunge just short of the post and grab Allez Eagle by a neck with Natuzzi storming home from well back to finish third a further one and a half lengths behind the first pair.
"He jumped brilliantly and settled into a good rhythm for me," noted Bosson after the race.
"I thought Allez Eagle might have me when he went a length in front but to my bloke's credit he has dug in and was very strong to the line."
It was a true family affair for Morrell, who co-owns and bred Ryan Mark with his daughter Anna, from Kingdom Bay mare Annalee.
"We've bred some really nice horses from the mare but this guy is clearly the best," he said.
"We never got to see the best of Annalee but hopefully now we've done her proud with this win."
- Additional reporting: NZ Racing Desk