Fix takes second place once more
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.
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.