Imelda Mary and Cameron Lammas are well clear as they get to the winning post at Te Rapa.Photo / Trish Dunell
The little girl from the wrong side of the tracks has firm grasp on elite title
Racing's most unlikely fairytale could end in a scarcely believable Filly of the Year title.
Because there weren't many times in Imelda Mary's life when she would have been considered a contender for the glamorous title of New Zealand's premier filly.
Not when trainer Wayne Hillis paid $3500 for her at the Karaka festival sale, the bargain bin of horse racing auctions.
Not last season when she was a scrawny juvenile filly who scraped into the Karaka Million and the story wasn't about her ability, more the cute angle that the filly was named after Hillis' mum.
Back then Avantage looked a champion filly, only for her three-year-old season to be cut short by injury this term before Media Sensation then topped this crop.
When she won the 1000 Guineas at Riccarton and raced to the head of the Filly of the Year standings, Imelda Mary was a largely ignored fifth and who could blame the critics, she was after all, still a maiden.
But a month later at her 12th start Imelda Mary left maidens and she hasn't looked back.
After adding the Royal Stakes at Ellerslie and then the Sir Tristram Classic at Te Rapa on Saturday, Imelda Mary is now on 16 points in the race for the Filly of the Year and many of those close to her aren't certain to contest remaining races culminating in the NZ Oaks at Trentham on March 16.
Imelda Mary will most likely head there via the Lowland Stakes at Hastings and it will take something special to deny the little girl from the wrong side of the tracks the elite title.
Sentimental Miss was the other filly out of Saturday's race to put her hoof up as a genuine Oaks contender but Imelda Mary has the triple threats of race experience, the ability to race handy and handle wet tracks.
The title is hers to lose.
On the subject of titles Melody Belle is in the box seat to win the biggest of them all, the Horse of the Year.
Her brave and baffling win in the $200,000 BCD Group Sprint at Te Rapa was her third group one of the season, with a group two win also and a third in the Railway making her CV for the Horse of the Year almost undeniable.
As important as her victory was from a title perspective the defeat of fellow superstar mare Danzdanzdance in the Herbie Dyke could be just as crucial as both mares went into the day with two group ones for the season next to their names.
One improved their standing, the other did not.
Melody Belle will most likely head to the $200,000 Haunui Farm Classic at Otaki on Saturday week, which could all but end her season.
Whereas Danzdanzdance's co-trainer Chris Gibbs says his grey flash is still on target for a Sydney campaign aimed at the Ranvet on March 23 and the Queen Elizabeth on April 13.
"She just pulled too hard and didn't get cover on Saturday so we will put that one behind us," said Gibbs.
Winning any feature race at the Sydney carnival is incredibly hard for New Zealand gallopers at the moment but even more so for older horses, especially those aimed at weight-for-age races.
Danzdanzdance has the even larger challenge of taking on Winx in the Queen Elizabeth but that at least comes with a bonus — downing the Queen of the Turf might be the only thing that could totally swing the Horse of the Year voting back her way.
For all the talent on show on Saturday the most poignant was jockey Troy Harris' two big race wins on Melody Belle and earlier a pick up ride on Sponge Bob in the Waikato Guineas.
The latter was supposed to be ridden by Michael Coleman, who missed Saturday's meeting after being laid up in Waikato Hospital with a blood clot in his leg, which will be operated on today.
But even Coleman was pleased to see Harris, who looked lost to race riding on more than one occasion in recent years, take out the group two if he couldn't.
"I am thrilled for Richo [co-trainer Graham Richardson] because he is a great mate of mine and also for Troy because it is hard when you are making a comeback," said Coleman.
Harris has always had the rare balance of his father, champion jockey Noel, but admits in his own words "I got dog on racing" in the past as he struggled with his weight.
Harris senior shared a special moment with his son with a quick hongi after he returned to scale after Melody Belle's win.
Sponge Bob's surprise victory leaves Richardson and training partner Gavin Parker as well as the gelding's connections with a decision to make as it would cost a $30,000 late entry fee to get him into the $1 million Vodafone Derby at Ellerslie on March 2.
"I honestly don't know what to do," admits Richardson.
"We will discuss it with the owners this week and come up with a plan."
The next stop on the road to the Derby is the Avondale Guineas at Ellerslie on Saturday, which features favourite Cutadeel, Surely Sacred and two reps from the Chris Waller stable in Botti and Nobu.
On The Rocks
Whatever Pam Gerard's cut of the trainer's percentage for On The Rocks's win in the $400,000 Herbie Dyke on Saturday is, she deserves more.
Because it was the cut Gerard didn't let training partner Mike Moroney make which has helped On The Rocks become one of the best gallopers in the country. On The Rocks was kept a colt because of Gerard's insistence that it would help him develop and strengthen.
"We didn't keep him a colt to make him a stallion prospect, although now that starts to become more realistic," admits Gerard.
"We did it to help him strengthen and try and keep that spark in him because he isn't a big horse.
"And it seems to have worked. He may not be very big but he has a really long stride and now he has proven he is a weight-for-age horse the Bonecrusher [Ellerslie, March 9] looks a good target."
The win was Moroney's 50th group one training success and another success story for his brother Paul sourcing good horses for not huge prices, On The Rocks costing just $40,000 as a yearling.