Racing: Xtravagant gamble pays big time

By Mike Dillon

Xtravagant wins Saturday's $200,000 NRM Sprint by eight lengths. Photo / Trish Dunell
Xtravagant wins Saturday's $200,000 NRM Sprint by eight lengths. Photo / Trish Dunell

This wasn't a $125,000 gamble like the rest of the opposition was racing for.

This was a gamble around the $2 million mark. Possibly more, a lot more.

It took enormous cojones to roll the dice on the racing tactics on Xtravagant in Saturday's $200,000 NRM Sprint.

And we are not just talking about the decision to tell rider Matt Cameron to stick hard to the inside running rail which by halfway through the programme was despised by all others.

The BIG decision was to run Xtravagant at all.

When the track was downgraded from a good 3 to a dead 4 (elsewhere on this page) the opportunity presented itself to pull Xtravagant out of the group one engagement.

Xtravagant is a massively valuable stallion prospect and the pot of gold took a hit when the run of form coming off the cakewalk 2000 Guineas victory was slammed with a beaten-into-fourth performance on an unsuitable wet track in the Levin Stakes at Trentham.

Excuses catch the bus in these things and another defeat for the same reason could shave millions from the eventual stallion price for a colt that looked a world beater at Riccarton.

Fortune favours the brave and team Te Akau - principal David Ellis along with trainers Stephen Autridge and Jamie Richards - collectively decided to run. Brave.

Twice the team went down to the track and walked the inside lane where no one wanted to go before their Race 8.

Enjoying a drink with David Ellis was one of racing's greats, retired Hall of Fame trainer Colin Jillings.

"I asked Colin if he would come down and walk the track with us and he was fine with that," said Ellis.

"The four of us decided the footing right against the rail was the best part of the track."

The dice was rolled. Later, after Xtravagant made the Sprint look like two races rather than one with his eight-length victory, Ellis said, accurately, "If this didn't come off we were going to look like idiots."

The instructions to rider Matt Cameron were: "Go hard to the rail and the others won't worry about you - they'll think you're mad."

Xtravagant ran the 1400m in 1.21.92, essentially without anything to push him. The time was significantly short of Dopff's 1.20.42 track record, but in the circumstances and given the conditions, it was remarkable in the extreme.

When you win by eight lengths jockeys would rather strangle themselves than offer excuses. Michael McNab, who rode third-placed Recite in the feature, has handled Xtravagant in a significant amount of his trackwork at Matamata.

"He's a freak," says McNab of Xtravagant. "He's going to Melbourne now, let's hope he can win. I think he can."

Mark Du Plessis, on the runner-up Vespa, couldn't believe what the winner achieved. "At one point I looked up and the Vespa was a couple lengths clear, then a few strides later he was out of sight."

Next main aim is the stallion-making Australian Guineas.

Given decent footing, the Aussies will need something very competitive.

- NZ Herald

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