There could be as many as four horses with Hawke's Bay connections contesting this year's $250,000 Livamol Classic, the pinnacle Group 1 race at the Bostock New Zealand Hawke's Bay Spring Carnival.
Melody Belle, part-owned by Waipukurau couple Trevor and Debbie Walters, was a dominant winner of last Saturday's Group 1 $200,000 Tarzino Trophy (1400m) and is expected to contest the remaining two Group 1 events at the carnival, the $200,000 Windsor Park Plate (1600m) on September 21 and the Livamol on October 5.
She is likely to be joined by two other impressive winners at Hastings last Saturday in Cutadeel and Atlanta Peach while Wait A Sec, who won the Livamol two years ago, is also being aimed at the same race again.
Melody Belle could not have been more impressive when completing back-to-back wins in last Saturday's first Group 1 race of the new season.
After missing the start slightly, the five-year-old got back further in the running than expected but rider Michael McNab was able to get her across and secure a spot back in the field, but with cover. He then bided his time before angling between horses at the top of the home straight and the outstanding mare accelerated clear over the final stages to win by three-quarters of a length from Wyndspelle, with Helena Baby a long neck back in third.
The original plan was to ride Melody Belle positively to try to overcome the number 15 barrier but when she dwelt at the start rider Michael McNab had to adopt plan B.
McNab showed a cool head and didn't panic, letting the Commands mare find her rhythm before getting on the back of race-favourite Endless Drama.
"I saw Endless Drama out posted and I thought he would take me far enough into the race," McNab said.
"We chased him and then sucked up and when she got out, she let rip - just an amazing horse."
It was win number 12 for Melody Belle from only 22 starts and her seventh Group 1 success. The Jamie Richards-trained mare has now won more than $1,749,156 in stakemoney.
Melody Belle is owned by the Fortuna Melody Belle Syndicate, managed by Auckland's John Galvin. There are 34 individual shareholders in the syndicate and Waipukurau couple Trevor and Debbie Walters have the biggest shareholding at 10 per cent.
Trevor Walters has always been keen on racehorses and had shares in a few average ones before Melody Belle came along. A keen darts player, he was practising in his shed at home one day when he heard an advert on the radio from John Galvin offering shares in a filly by Commands who had been bought, by David Ellis, for $57,500 from the 2016 Karaka yearling sales.
"I spoke to Debbie and we decided to have a go, so I rang John Galvin and said I wanted a 10 per cent share," Walters recalled.
The next biggest shareholder in the mare is a person in Australia who has an 8 per cent share.
Trainer Jamie Richards has said all along that Melody Belle will hopefully contest all three Group 1 races at this year's Hawke's Bay Spring carnival and is hoping she can create history by becoming the first horse to complete the "Triple Crown".
Cutadeel back in top form
The promise four-year-old Cutadeel showed last season looks set to come to fruition this season judging by his strong win in the $40,000 Reliable Man Trophy at Hastings last Saturday.
The Dundeel gelding was resuming from a lengthy spell in the 1600m event and was up against a field of seasoned open handicappers. But he still proved superior, scoring by a long neck from Sultan Of Swing.
Cutadeel is trained by the Cambridge partnership of Murray Baker and Andrew Forsman and was recording his fifth win from only nine starts. The Listed Barfoot & Thomson Salver (2100m) at Ellerslie was one of his three wins last season and his connections rated him highly enough to line him up in both the Group 2 Avondale Guineas (2100m) and Group 1 New Zealand Derby (2400m).
Cutadeel was bred by Hawke's Bay couple Sharyn & Mike Craig and is raced by them with other family members and close friends. Adrian and Angela Herd, who are Sharyn's son and daughter-in-law, have a share along with her other two sons Brendon and Darren. Mike Craig's Wellington-based son Jamie and his wife Fleur also have a share while the other members of the syndicate are Hawke's Bay women, Kathleen Wright and Cheryl Leonard.
The connections were both delighted and relieved that Cutadeel was able to win fresh up after a long break.
"I was a bit nervous because you never know whether they will come back, but Murray and Andrew have done a fantastic job with him," Sharyn Craig said this week.
"He's a horse that has had a few problems in the past. He broke his pelvis as a young horse and then had a hoof injury and Murray and Andrew have taken him along very slowly which is now paying dividends."
The Craigs were part of the syndicate that raced Dundeel, an outstanding performer who included six Group 1 events among his 10 race wins and now stands at Arrowfield Stud in Australia.
They still own two shares in Dundeel which gives them breeding rights for two mares each year. They sold Cutadeel's dam Dineeta but own a daughter of Dundeel called Not A Deel which they will be mating with Charm Spirit this year and they still have shares in a Dundeel-Pet Worth House two-year-old that was sold at this year's Easter yearling sales in Sydney.
Co-trainer Andrew Forsman said this week Cutadeel will now contest the Windsor Park Plate (1600m) on the second day of the Hawke's Bay spring carnival and another good run there could see him then line up in the Livamol Classic (2040m) on the last day.
The Hastings training partnership of Guy Lowry and Grant Cullen could saddle up two runners in this year's Group 1 $250,000 Livamol Classic on the third day of the Hawke's Bay spring carnival, on October 5.
The Lowry/Cullen stable produced Wait A Sec to win the 2040-metre feature two years ago and are aiming the nine-year-old again at the prestigious event while he could be joined by Atlanta Peach, an impressive winner of a Rating 72 race over 1600m at last Saturday's Hawke's Bay meeting.
Wait A Sec finished last of 12 runners in the Open 1600 at Hastings last Saturday but it was the horse's first race for 18 months and he is sure to have taken plenty of improvement from the run.
Co-trainer Guy Lowry was pleasantly surprised by Atlanta Peach's win as her previous three victories had all been on rain affected tracks and he thought she may be outpaced over 1600m on the dead-4 racing surface.
Atlanta Peach got back to ninth in the early running and was still well back coming to the home turn. But, while most of the others scouted wide on the bend, jockey Michael Coleman was able to make up many lengths by sticking to the inside and she closed quickly on the leaders.
Coleman was then able to get a split one off the fence inside the last 300m and Atlanta Peach dived through it before dashing clear to win by 1-1/4 lengths.
"When Michael Coleman got off her, he said it wasn't surprising that she won as, although they had been running fast times, there was plenty of give in the track and she coped with it well," Lowry said.
"We know that she won't let down on a good summer track so we will be hoping for a bit more rain for the Livamol."
Atlanta Peach was recording her fourth win from only 11 starts. She is owned by Cambridge's Tony Rider who races the mare in partnership with several employees at his Clarence Street Pak 'N' Save supermarket.
Xpression HB/PB Horse of the year
The lightly raced Xpression was crowned Horse of the Year at last Friday's Hawke's Bay/Poverty Bay Racing & Breeding Awards.
The annual function, sponsored by Bramwell Bate and VetsOne, was held at the Hastings racecourse and recognises the achievements of the district's horses, trainers, owners and breeders during the last racing season.
Xpression was trained on the Hastings track by Guy Lowy and Grant Cullen. She was bred by Hawke's Bay man Iain Renton and Haunui Farm studmaster Mark Chitty and is raced by them in partnership with other close Hawke's Bay friends Mark Apatu, Paul Bayes and Fred Coates.
The daughter of Showcasing had five New Zealand starts last season for two wins, a second and two thirds. She won the Group 3 $70,000 Barnswood Farm Stakes (1400m) at Ashburton and also finished third in the Group 1 $300,000 New Zealand 1000 Guineas (1600m) at Riccarton.
Xpression also took out the Chouxmaani Investments Award for the highest earning three-year-old bred by a Hawke's Bay breeder and was one of eight horses bred in the Hawke's Bay/Poverty Bay area that won a black type race last season.
The husband and wife team of Paul and Carol Nelson dominated the awards, winning five of the 10 categories.
They were crowned both owner of the year and breeder of the year while Paul Nelson had the best winning strike-rate among Hawke's Bay trainers.
The Nelson owned and trained Peso took out the title of Hawke's Bay/Poverty Bay Trained Horse of the Year after he recorded two wins, four seconds and two thirds from 11 starts during the season. His victories included the Listed $50,000 Jakkalberry Classic (1950m) at Rotorua while he was also runner up in the Group 3 City Of Auckland Cup (2400m) at Ellerslie.
Nimbletoes, owned by Richard and Liz Wood, was crowned Hawke's Bay/Poverty Bay Broodmare of the Year as the dam of the talented King Louis.
King Louis, trained by John Bary, included the Group 3 Mongolian Khan Trophy (1200m) at Ellerslie among his two wins last season and was also placed in the Group 2 Hawke's Bay Guineas (1400m).
Bary was the leading Hawke's Bay trainer for the season on wins, chalking up 26 victories to head off the Lowry/Cullen partnership by one.