Group 1 performed juvenile Aalaalune has given Matamata trainer Jacob McKay plenty of excitement this season and he believes she can go on to better things in her classic year.
The 2-year-old daughter of Reliable Man contested six races this season, all at stakes level, placing in three of them, including a short-margin runner-up performance behind Yourdeel in the Group 1 Sistema Stakes (1200m) at Ellerslie in March.
McKay was delighted with her season after initially thinking she wouldn't show her best until she was a 3-year-old.
"I couldn't have been happier with what she has done this season," McKay said. "She has pretty much done everything against the grain. She wasn't really bred to be a 2-year-old and just kept stepping up.
"I didn't think she would quite show what she did as a 2-year-old when I broke her in. She was always very natural and has always been a nice moving filly, but I thought it wouldn't be until she was 3 that she would be showing something.
"She surprised me a little bit in her first couple of trials, that's when I decided to go for a black-type race for her first start.
"Every time she just kept stepping up, she never once disappointed us and was probably unlucky not to have won one of those races along the way."
While she also placed in the Listed Splice Construction 2YO Stakes (1100m) on debut and the Group 2 Matamata Breeders' Stakes (1200m), McKay highlighted the Sistema Stakes runner-up performance as the most emotional result of the season.
"That would have to be the highlight and just about the disappointment of the season," he said.
"To get so close was just a bit gut wrenching, but you couldn't take anything away from her or the other horse [Yourdeel].
"It just came down to the bob on the line and I guess Opie [Bosson, jockey] has got that little bit of X-factor when he got that half an inch out of his horse that we couldn't quite find with ours. Hopefully we can turn the tables on them next season."
Aalaalune, who was purchased for $230,000 out of Westbury Stud's 2018 New Zealand Bloodstock Book 1 Sale draft, is back in work at McKay's Matamata property after a two-month spell and he believes she has a big season ahead of her next term.
"She has had a good few months off and been back in work in the last few weeks now, so I am looking forward to the spring with her.
"Like everyone we will be trying to get to Hawke's Bay. There are a couple of options for her there, the Gold Trail Stakes [Group 3, 1200m] and the Hawke's Bay Guineas [Group 2, 1400m].
"Whether I try and go fresh down there or look at Taupo or a trial on the way up. This season she was a very clean-winded filly, so she will let me know as she comes along what she wants to do, but I definitely wouldn't be scared to have a crack at some of those big races early on with her. On her form she is good enough.
"The 1000 Guineas [Group 1, 1600m] is going to be one of our early targets. If we can run in the first two or three there then I will be pretty rapt with her."
McKay is excited by what he has seen from his filly already this preparation.
"Naturally she has always looked like a 3-year-old," he said. "There is always that big question mark of whether they come back as good as what you expect.
"But so far this time round she is ticking all the boxes and I couldn't have been happier with how she spelled."
McKay, who has recorded five wins this term, said he is enjoying training his small team at his Matamata property and is looking to focus on quality rather than quantity in seasons ahead.
"It has probably been only in the last six months or so I have actually built up a nice half a dozen horses around me that are capable of winning a few races," he said.
"I keep to about a dozen. I have got one full-time worker and I do all the riding myself, so I don't like to have too many."
McKay, who previously trained in partnership with his father Peter, branched out on his own a few seasons ago and said he has slowly developed his business. "I have got some goals for next season, obviously getting so close in some of those black-type races [this season], it would be nice to get a black-type win."
- NZ Racing Desk