Tough nut worth cracking
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.’’
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.