A nail-biting finish to the Gr.2 Lisa Chittick Foxbridge Plate (1200m) saw former top juvenile Melody Belle provide her trainer Jamie Richards with the perfect birthday present at Te Rapa.
Race favourite Julius and Melody Belle set down to a pitched battle in the middle of the track over the final 200m as they cleared out from their rivals. Although somewhat dwarfed by the imposing frame of the favourite, Melody Belle and rider Shafiq Rusof refused to yield as she put her nose in front at the right time to snatch victory from a game Julius with veteran stayer Authentic Paddy storming home late for third.
A Group One winner as a two-year-old, the now four-year-old Commands mare had disappointed slightly in the latter stages of her three-year-old campaign when unplaced in two Sydney runs after taking out the Gr.3 Mongolian Khan Trophy (1200m) at Ellerslie in January.
Freshened up by the team at Te Akau Racing, the mare had endured an interrupted preparation with the postponement of the Te Teko trials forcing Richards to line her up at Te Rapa without the benefit of a lead-up run.
None of that mattered as the mare showed plenty of heart to gain the win and announce herself as a major contender for the first Group One race of the season, the Tarzino Trophy (1400m) at Hastings in a fortnight.
“I was unsure on the line but I did say the angle would favour us,” said Fortuna Melody Belle Syndicate manager John Galvin.
“We thought she might have been half a run short so we weren’t 100 per cent positive today but we knew she would handle the track and she is a quality individual.
“It gives us a lot of confidence heading to Hastings.”
Richards, who has taken over training the powerful Te Akau team on his own this season, was relieved the mare had performed to her best after providing him with some concerns in the build-up to the race.
“I was just a little bit worried during the week as her work wasn’t that flash on Tuesday,” he said.
“I didn’t want to pump her up too much but she’s a real racehorse and she was given a lovely ride by Shafiq.
“This will take a bit out of her as she has had a tough run first-up. We will get her home and assess things but at this stage she will be going to Hastings next.
“She didn’t have a great three-year-old season, but it looks like we are in for a great year this year.”
Bred by Marie Leicester, Melody Belle was a $57,500 purchase for Te Akau boss David Ellis from the Haunui Farm draft during the Premier session of the 2016 National Yearling Sale at Karaka. The victory takes her career earnings to over $986,000 from six victories, with five of these at stakes level including the rich Listed Karaka Million (1200m) as a two-year-old. –