Fix takes sec­ond place once more

Matamata Chronicle - - Sports/opinion - DENNIS RYAN Rac­ing colum­nist

Win­ning mightn’t be the only thing in rac­ing but it sure counts for a lot.

For what must seem like the umpteenth time, at Eller­slie on Satur­day Mata­mata train­ers Ken and Bev Kelso were re­minded of the gulf be­tween first and sec­ond when their filly Fix went down by half a length in the $750,000 TV3 New Zealand Derby.

A week ear­lier an­other mem­ber of the se­lect Kelso sta­ble, Bound­ing, had tasted de­feat for the first time when go­ing down by mere inches in the J Swap Con­trac­tors Mata­mata Breed­ers’ Stakes.

And a fort­night be­fore that, the Kelso-trained Xanadu fin­ished sec­ond in Group One com­pany for the third time this sea­son in the Waikato Draught Sprint at Te Rapa.

Xanadu’s five starts this sea­son per­haps epit­o­mise the Kel­sos’ run of luck at the high­est level. That be­gan on Septem­ber 1 when Xanadu went down by half a length to sub­se­quent Cox Plate win­ner Ocean Park in the Makfi Chal­lenge Stakes, fol­lowed by third and fourth plac­ings in the re­main­ing two legs of the Hawke’s Bay triple crown, the Wind­sor Park Plate and NZB In­surance Spring Clas­sic.

The big mare re­turned from a let-up to add an­other Group One plac­ing with a long neck sec­ond in the Tele­graph Hand­i­cap at Tren­tham in Jan­uary to Fi­nal Touch, who again proved her neme­sis in the Waikato Draught Sprint.

Fix had en­joyed far bet­ter luck than Xanadu through the sea­son, be­gin­ning with a firstup win in Au­gust, a solid third in the Group 1 New Zealand 1000 Guineas and then an un­beaten se­quence in the Group 2 Eight Carat Clas­sic, Royal Stakes and Sir Tris­tram Fil­lies’ Clas­sic.

Af­ter the last of those wins at Te Rapa in early Fe­bru­ary the de­ci­sion was made to switch from the orig­i­nal New Zealand Oaks tar­get and pay a late en­try to the New Zealand Derby. Both races are con­tested over 2400 me­tres and in com­mon with vir­tu­ally all con­tes­tants, the big ques­tion was whether Fix would have the nec­es­sary stamina.

Cru­cial to that was hav­ing all fac­tors in her favour, most of which her train­ers could man­age but one they could not. Hence the dis­ap­point­ment when Fix came up with the out­side bar­rier draw in the 18-horse field, which sig­nif­i­cantly im­pacted on her prospects.

That sce­nario was po­ten­tially ex­ac­er­bated by a change of jockey, with Vin­nie Colgan opt­ing for an­other filly he had rid­den reg­u­larly through the sum­mer, race favourite Habibi, and thus sub­sti­tuted by Mark Du Plessis. In the fi­nal anal­y­sis it was the bar­rier draw, not the change in jockey, that proved costly.

The only op­tion was to ride for­ward and hope for some luck in the early jos­tle for po­si­tions, but com­pet­ing against oth­ers with the same in­ten­tion, Fix was forced wide around the bend out of the home straight. Habibi, mean­while, had se­cured a saloon pas­sage on the fence af­ter draw­ing the in­side gate.

Fix was even­tu­ally able to ease into a more eco­nom­i­cal slot head­ing down the back straight and she loomed as a def­i­nite threat on the home turn as she headed the chase af­ter the pace­maker Castlze­berg. She took the lead for a brief moment 100m from the fin­ish but Habibi, who had tracked her from the turn, then lodged her claim and as­serted her­self to score by half a length.

For the Kel­sos, ac­cept­ing de­feat in the coun­try’s pre­mier clas­sic wasn’t easy. To their and owner Gary Hard­ing’s credit, how­ever, they did so with a feel­ing of im­mense pride in their filly’s ef­fort, tem­pered by the ques­tion of what might have been.

‘‘There’s no doubt that the wide draw cost her, but you have to play with the cards you’re dealt, we know that,’’ said Ken Kelso. ‘‘We’re very proud of her the way she’s stepped up. She’s had a huge sea­son and has fronted up with­out fail.’’

Mata­mata horses didn’t go win­less on the open­ing day of Auck­land Cup week, with the pro­gramme book-ended by the Wayne and Vanessa Hil­lis­trained maiden win­ner Pay­day and Needlly tak­ing the last for the Lance No­ble-Shane Dye com­bi­na­tion.

Else­where, stal­lions and breed­ers from the Mata­mata district had a big week­end, headed by the Aus­tralian Guineas win by the Rich Hill Stud-bred Fer­lax. He be­came the twelfth Group One win­ner for the stud’s se­nior stal­lion Pen­tire when he took his record to four wins from as many starts in the big Flem­ing­ton race.

Head­ing the chase af­ter him was an­other Mata­mata-bred, You’re So Good, which was bred at Waikato Stud by res­i­dent sire Sav­abeel.

The Waikato Stud in­flu­ence was even more ev­i­dent at New Zealand’s other domestic Satur­day meet­ing, where daugh­ters of O’Reilly – High Fash­ion, Chan­de­lier and Emer­ald Queen – filled the first three plac­ings in the Group 3 Bruce Perry Blood­stock Low­land Stakes at Hast­ings.

Photo: TR­ISH DUNELL

Five der­bys: Vin­nie Colgan makes it five New Zealand Derby vic­to­ries as he gets the favourite Habibi home first ahead of the gal­lant filly Fix.

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