Racing: Where there's muck, there's Marsh

By Mike Dillon

Damien Oliver celebrates winning the A$4 million Queen Elizabeth Stakes on Lucia Valentina. Photo / Getty Images
Damien Oliver celebrates winning the A$4 million Queen Elizabeth Stakes on Lucia Valentina. Photo / Getty Images

Stephen Marsh had an abrupt lesson on the back-to-reality element of thoroughbred racing yesterday morning.

Fifteen hours after standing in the Randwick birdcage elated as he and owner Lib Petagna received congratulations for Sofia Rosa winning the A$1 million Australian Oaks, Marsh was mucking out the filly's box.

"You have to come back to earth pretty quickly in this game," said the Cambridge trainer when contacted by the Herald.

"I decided to give the staff an easy day today and I've found I haven't lost my touch at mucking out. Hang on a minute," said Marsh as one of the staff grabbed his attention.

"That's great," he said, "I've just been told off [by the staff] for missing one of the droppings."

Blame Saturday night's Champagne.

Sofia Rosa was just one element of Sydney jockey Hugh Bowman's magical day at Randwick and he had some remarkable words on dismounting after his first touch of the filly. "I've had some tough rides in my career, but this filly takes the cake, she is tougher to ride than any I've been on.

"She is just so tough-minded. You would go to war with her, but you'd never marry her. No one could ever get to the bottom of this filly.

"She could get tired, but she'll never give up."

Which is why Sofia Rosa was able to come back from crashing heavily in the home straight in the Eight Carat Classic at Ellerslie on Boxing Day and come out six days later and win the Royal Stakes.

"That fall could have been the end of the careers of this filly and rider Vinnie Colgan," says Marsh.

The crash did not turn Sofia Rosa's brain, because for the want of a better word her brain is already turned. From day one she has been a hot-headed type on whom Marsh has been unable to pack any significant condition. Saturday's win is a tribute to Marsh's horsemanship and to the filly's durability.

And it magnificently made up for at her previous start - Sofia Rosa winning the New Zealand Oaks at Trentham, only to lose the result in the inquiry room after home-straight interference.

"That really hurt us because it was the group one everyone looks for, but to come over here and win the one that really matters and to win it on championships day is just a dream," said Marsh.

The Cambridge horseman had glowing words for his owner, Wellington businessman Petagna.

"He had two horses racing at Randwick on the day and won the A$1 million Oaks and the A$4 million Queen Elizabeth Stakes. How many could accomplish that, it's freakish."

The Queen Elizabeth winner was Lucia Valentina, who Marsh initially prepared in New Zealand, but who now races from Chris Lee's Sydney stable.

No, said Marsh, he had no regrets about losing the mare then watching her win Sydney's richest race.

"Originally I was meant to have her only to take her through to barrier trial stages, but I ended up winning two or three with her before she came here. I was just so delighted for Lou because he is such a passionate supporter of racing and is a massive part of my stable."

Sofia Rosa won the Oaks by half a length from Ambience and James McDonald with outsider Believe third.

Valley Girl was sixth, but just 1.7 lengths from the winner with the third New Zealander Capella next home.

- NZ Herald

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