• The odds are stacked against Melody Belle but her five group 1 status suggests class often overrides logic in the high-octane arena of thoroughbred racing.
• The opening leg of the spring carnival in Hastings, the Tarzino Trophy, promises some riveting finishes never mind what the bookies are predicting on a day where weather shouldn't add to the blame game.
What Jamie Richards is saying is indubitably important but what grabs the attention more than the words is the tone in which its delivered.
Richards is defining the boundaries of the $200,000 marquee race of Tarzino Trophy TAB Daffodil Raceday, the first leg of the Bostock New Zealand Racing Carnival group 1 trilogy in Hastings tomorrow. Presumably it can be quite unnerving for the others to hear the Matamata trainer declare not only Melody Belle's chances in the 1400m weight-for-age race starting at 4.30pm but also the remaining two legs — the 1600m Windsor Park Plate on Saturday, September 21, and the 2040m Livamol Classic on Saturday, October 5.
"Yes, that's the plan," says Richards who is in his second year of solo training after his stint with Stephen Autridge. "We'd like to win the triple crown this year."
The 5-year-old bay mare had claimed the Tarzino and Windsor Park Plate crowns last year but he had decided to spell her with an eye on the Railway Stakes and then the Telegraph in Wellington.
So what's changed this year?
Richards explains the endorsement comes after Melody Belle's acquisition 2000m group 1 Bonecrusher New Zealand Stakes at Ellerslie, Auckland, albeit on a heavy 10 track in March.
"She's won five group ones last year, so that's virtually unheard of, and it takes a very, very good horse to do that."
Perhaps what will sound more ominous to the rivals is an upbeat approach despite Melody Belle, with jockey Michael McNab in the saddle, drawing barrier 15.
"That makes things very tricky for us," says Richards. "Well go forward from out there to try to find a spot in the first four or five so, yeah, that's out of our control and we'll just have to do our best."
The champion mount, who is a "warm favourite" among the New Zealand Horse of the Year nominees, has built an affinity with McNab although Malaysian-born, Singapore-based jockey Shafiq Rusof rode her to victory last year.
Te Akau Racing owner David Ellis bought Melody Belle for $57,500 during the premier session of the 2016 National Yearling Sale. Marie Leicester, of Auckland, bred her.
What piques Richards' interest is that Melody Belle is in a happy place and that signals a bumper season.
"It's always been our plan all the way through," he says, dismissing suggestions the dead 5 rating on the left turn 1700m track was a factor.
"It's no problems. She's goes good on anything and very genuine so, you know, she very rarely puts in a bad run."
McNab had ridden Melody Belle to fourth place at the group 2 Foxbridge Plate, on a slow 9 track, over 1200m in Waikato a fortnight ago.
Richards sees the Tony Pike-trained Foxbridge winner Endless Drama, who Leith Innes will jump out of barrier No 7, as the one to watch in the field of 16.
"His win at the Foxbridge the other day was terrific and a had good run so he'll be the horse to beat," he says of the 8-year-old Irish stallion sired by Lope De Vega out of Desert Drama.
Richards also has jockey Jonathan Riddell riding Equinox in the 1200m Roca — Sir Colin Meads Trophy race for 3-year-olds at 2pm.
"He's a nice colt, I like him. I'll be disappointed if he doesn't run well," he says of the Karaka Millions mount, sired by Exceed And Excel (Australia) out of Our Ella Belle (NZ).
He feels the form of the field makes it difficult to single out any other rivals.
"You know, they are quality horses on the way out to bigger targets."
The 30-year-old trainer says Te Akau Racing has had a good year but there's a burning desire to improve for another bumper season.
"It was my first year last year as a solo trainer so we're looking forward to new challenges this coming season."
While evolving incrementally in his trade, he hopes he hasn't changed much but emphasises he prefers to let his horses do the talking at meetings.
"When you put in the hard work with nice horses you usually get some good results."
Richards says it's a great raceday and one for everyone to support for a worthy cause to start the spring carnival season.
No doubt, the army of Fortuna Melody Belle Syndicate members will return to offer another orange tick of approval.
In 2017, another Te Akau Racing syndicate, the baseball cap-wearing G Nuts, created an orange wave with Opie Bosson riding the chestnut gelding Gingernuts to victory here under the tutelage of Autridge and Richards.
Hastings trainer John Bary ensures provincial pride with Samantha Collett riding The Bandito, another Karaka Millions horse, out of barrier 13.