Tough nut worth crack­ing

Matamata Chronicle - - News - DENNIS RYAN Rac­ing colum­nist

Ja­son and Kelly Price, two of the younger mem­bers of the Mata­mata rac­ing com­mu­nity, had a tough de­ci­sion to make re­cently, but in the end it was the right one.

Cap­ping a mem­o­rable sea­son that has de­liv­ered their first fea­ture race win, they fi­nally gave in to mar­ket de­mands and sold their sta­ble star Al Strada for big money to Hong Kong in­ter­ests.

The strap­ping ch­est­nut be­came an ob­vi­ous tar­get of tal­ent scouts from the time he won on de­but at Paeroa in early Jan­uary. His cam­paign hit a pot­hole when he fin­ished last af­ter hav­ing no luck in the coun­try’s rich­est race, the Karaka Mil­lion, in late Jan­uary, but he was back on the radar a month later when he won the Listed Reid & Har­ri­son Slip­per on his home track.

That per­for­mance gave real value to the horse that had cost Ja­son and Kelly $22,500 as a Karaka year­ling 12 months ear­lier. That sce­nario took on greater sig­nif­i­cance when Al Strada fol­lowed up with a third plac­ing to Ruud Awak­en­ing and Bound­ing in the Group 1 Di­a­mond Stakes at Eller­slie and in what was to be his fi­nal start in New Zealand, fin­ished sec­ond to an­other out­stand­ing filly, Re­cite, in the Gr 1 Manawatu Sires’ Pro­duce Stakes.

As a stakes win­ner and the only horse to be placed in both of the coun­try’s group one ju­ve­nile fea­tures, Al Strada es­tab­lished him­self as the sea­son’s lead­ing male two-year-old. The feel­ers that had gone out for him early in the piece got harder and harder to re­sist and in the end, af­ter hav­ing al­ready turned down sub­stan­tial of­fers, they made the de­ci­sion to sell.

With stakes of $100,000 and an un­de­clared sale price of a sig­nif­i­cantly higher six-fig­ure na­ture to pocket as well, Ja­son and Kelly have farewelled their high­est achiever to date with re­signed re­luc­tance. Anec­dotes abound in rac­ing of sub­stan­tial of­fers be­ing turned down and sub­se­quently re­gret­ted, just as the ex­am­ples of horses sold for big money fail­ing to jus­tify their price tag are com­mon-place.

The catch with hav­ing to make the de­ci­sion whether to sell is that when the most money is be­ing of­fered is also the time that the sub­ject is hard­est to let go. In Al Strada’s case, what made it even more dif­fi­cult for Ja­son and Kelly was that they had de­vel­oped an un­der­stand­able at­tach­ment to the horse that had given them their first fea­ture race win.

Iron­i­cally, in his early days with them he had not ex­actly en­deared him­self with some dif­fi­cult be­hav­iour, but as the say­ing goes, beauty is in the eyes of the be­holder.

‘‘He was a tough nut to be­gin with and I have to give the credit for sort­ing him out to Kelly,’’ said Ja­son.

‘‘Af­ter what he’s achieved for us this sea­son he’ll al­ways be a spe­cial horse and we had mixed feel­ings about sell­ing him, but in the end the money got too big to re­sist. Pay­ing the bills and get­ting your­self es­tab­lished in this busi­ness is not easy, so what we got for him will be a big help in that re­spect.’’

Ja­son, who be­gan his ca­reer in rac­ing as a stable­hand with Mike Moroney, has held a trainer’s li­cence since 2007. Back then he and his wife were mainly en­gaged in break­ing-in and pre-train­ing work and it wasn’t un­til the 2009-2010 sea­son that they pro­duced their own re­sults.

The four wins that sea­son were added to by an­other three in 2010-2011 as well as a third plac­ing by Queen Boudicca in the Gr 2 J Swap Con­trac­tors Mata­mata Breeders’ Stakes.

That filly was by the Brighthill Farm stal­lion Per­fectly Ready, which led them to the source of the colt that was to be­come Al Strada in their Karaka sale pur­chases the fol­low­ing year.

As new­com­ers in a com­pet­i­tive en­vi­ron­ment, it has been up to Ja­son and Kelly – with solid sup­port from their re­spec­tive par­ents and fam­ily mem­bers – to make much of their own luck rather than rely on out­side clients to sup­ply them with likely rac­ing ma­te­rial.

As well as Al Strada and Queen Boudicca, horses sourced at Karaka also in­clude the promis­ing stayer Jug­ger­naut Rock, who they race in part­ner­ship with Ja­son’s fa­ther, Alan, and Kelly’s fa­ther, Rob Hall. Back in March the big geld­ing fin­ished sec­ond in the New Zealand St Leger, only to pull up with what ini­tially looked like se­ri­ous lame­ness in a fore­leg.

The good news is that he re­cov­ered quickly from what turned out to be a knock to a nerve or some­thing sim­i­lar, and he will be back next sea­son in the hope of com­pet­ing in stay­ing fea­tures.

The big­gest chal­lenge now fac­ing Ja­son and Kelly is to find a re­place­ment for the horse they have farewelled to Hong Kong. ‘‘That’s the hard­est part, find­ing one as good,’’ Ja­son con­cedes. ‘‘Still, we bought some more at Karaka this year so at least we’re giv­ing our­selves a chance.’’

Photo: TR­ISH DUNELL

Hong Kong-bound: Al Strada, pic­tured with his for­mer own­ers Ja­son and Kelly Price and reg­u­lar jockey Reese Jones, be­fore his Reid & Har­ri­son Slip­per win at Mata­mata in Fe­bru­ary.

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