Stephen Ralph never stopped believing. Not when he struggled to secure even the 10th best bred horse in a paddock while the big name trainers got the good ones.

Not when he spent time here and in Australia working for other trainers. Or when he had to sell real estate to put his kids through high school.

And even when he arrived at Ellerslie yesterday with a horse in Santa Monica the punters thought had no chance in the $200,000 Sistema Railway.

"I thought she could win because she has run some amazing last sectionals, the only horse I was scared of was Melody Belle," says the Waikato horseman.


As it turned out Ralph was right.

His four-race winner stunned some of the biggest names in New Zealand racing to capture our most glamorous sprint, giving Ralph his first group one training success.

But don't expect him to be stunned, or pull out the battler tag. Ralph feels like that group one winners circle was where he belonged, it just took him 55 years to get there.

"I don't think about myself as a battler," says Ralph, who trains his team at Te Awamutu and also stands his former stable star Thunder Down Under at stud.

"I have been lucky enough to work for some good trainers both here and in Aussie and you learn over there," he says of his career path.

"But when I came back I have had some ups and downs and we don't get the best bred horses to train.

"But I am happy with the job we do with them so something like today never felt impossible."

So while the tote said Santa Monica was a hopeless chance yesterday, Ralph believed in himself and his horse.


"She has gone some huge races behind some good horses and we had the light weight today. And Trudy did the rest."

Trudy as in Thornton, the ageless pioneer of the female riding ranks who was adding another Ellerslie group one to the one she won at this carnival last year with Authentic Paddy.

Thornton admits she didn't exactly share Ralph's confidence heading into yesterday's sprint but as tends to be her way she wasn't going to die wondering.

Santa Monica, a daughter of Per Incanto, wore down Princess Kereru after she looked the winner at the 100m mark while favourite Melody Belle was a stupendous third after being trapped back and wide from her draw.

She and defending champion Volpe Veloce made up huge ground in the straight to complete a mares clean sweep in the dividend-bearing placings.

As if the first day of 2019 couldn't get any better, Ralph missed the presentation ceremony for his first group one so he could go saddle up and lead-in another outsider, Marissa, for the last race.

She promptly led all the way for beaming apprentice Tegan Newman to give Ralph the most magical of hours.

It was almost unbelievable. Unless you were Stephen Ralph, the trainer who never stopped believing in himself or his horse.

● Going without over the festive season has paid off for jockey Jake Bayliss after he won the group two Rich Hill Mile (1600m) at Ellerslie yesterday aboard the Michael Moroney and Pam Gerard-trained On The Rocks.

The Matamata-based hoop had to get down to 52.5kg to ride the Alamosa entire in the mile feature and he was pleased that he had.

"I said I'd give it my best shot [to make the weight], I really wanted to ride him," Bayliss said.

"His work has been great, he is one of my favourite horses. I did the weight because I had trust in the horse today. He's done great, but don't expect me to get down to 52.5kg any time soon. It was a lot of hard work, I was basically a vegetarian there for a week, so I'm keen for a good steak tonight."

Moroney was pleased with the ride and said he will now have to put plans for On The Rocks to join his Melbourne stable on the backburner.

"He will now probably go down for the Thorndon Mile [group one, 1600m]. He's been saved from Australia at this stage."

All going to plan, the multiple stakes winner could be set to tackle the group one Herbie Dyke Stakes (2000m) at Te Rapa next month after his mile assignment at Trentham. "He is really under-rated," Moroney said.

- additional reporting NZ Racing Desk