New Zealand’s best mare, Melody Belle, provided racegoers with another display of her undoubted class when she defended her Gr.1 Tarzino Trophy (1400m) crown with an amazing performance to win on Saturday.
The five-year-old Commands mare, who kicked off a stunning haul of five Group One victories in the 2018/19 racing season with her win in the race twelve months ago, showed she would be just as competitive at the highest level again this year with another sparkling effort.
An indifferent run first up in the Gr.2 Foxbridge Plate (1200m) at Te Rapa to open her campaign, combined with an outside barrier draw, saw punters tread warily with the Jamie Richards-trained mare, installing her as a loose second favourite behind her Te Rapa conqueror Endless Drama.
Expected to race in a handy position, that plan went out the window when she dwelt slightly at the start. Rider Michael McNab was forced to bide his time near last in a strung-out field as rank outsider Deerfield set up a hectic speed out in front.
McNab didn’t panic as he eased his charge to the outside to track up Endless Drama and Wyndspelle around the home bend before angling for clear running at the 350m. Melody Belle let down with a devastating sprint to collar Wyndspelle and Helena Baby with 50m to run as McNab rose high in the irons to celebrate the victory.
“This is just unreal,” McNab said.
“With the work that has been put in by the whole Te Akau team, I had a good feeling.
“We stepped slow and I thought that was Plan A definitely gone as I was going to go forward.
“So, I went back and got in and across the top I saw Endless Drama out posted and I thought he would take me far enough (into the race).
“We chased him and then sucked up and sucked up and when she got out, she let rip – just an amazing horse.
“She’s a no-frills type of horse and just a real warhorse.”
Richards praised the effort by McNab, who Te Akau Racing boss David Ellis had taken under his wing after the jockey returned from an unhappy stint of riding in Australia.
“It was a no panic ride,” Richards said.
“She stepped half a stride slow, but they went really good tempo which probably worked in our favour.
“A big thank you to Dave (Ellis) for taking Michael under his wing and getting his weight right, helping him with his attitude and keeping positive and I think you can see that in the way he rode today.”
Richards admitted he had been second guessing himself after Melody Belle had been beaten first up at Te Rapa.
“I just kicked myself first-up as we needed to do a little more in her trial at Te Rapa,” he said.
“She was beaten fair and square (in the Foxbridge) but I knew the 1400m was really going to suit her and she has done a terrific job.
“She’s always been a poor eater but, as she has gotten older, she can handle a bit more racing. She came through that last race well, ate well and did everything right.
“She’s just a champion.”
Richards confirmed the mare would return to Hastings for the Gr.1 Windsor Park Plate (1600m) in three weeks before tackling the Gr.1 Livamol Classic (2040m) on October 5.
Bred by Marie Leicester, Melody Belle was a $57,500 purchase by Ellis from the Haunui Farm draft at the 2016 Premier session at the National Yearling Sale.
Raced by the Fortuna Bloodstock Melody Belle Syndicate, the mare is the hot favourite to be crowned New Zealand Thoroughbred Racing Horse of the Year at the annual award ceremony that will be held at Ellerslie racecourse on September 8. – NZ Racing Desk