Bella Vella out of retirement and preparing for Group 1 comeback

Bella Vella as a foal. (Photo: Lisa Richards)

Star mare Bella Vella is again out of retirement and eyeing a return to the racetrack after another failed stint in the breeding barn.

“Whilst she continues to do everything right, that little May Carnival with the (Robert) Sangster Stakes is staring us in the face and might be an option”, said Rosemont Stud director Anthony Mithen.

Rosemont Stud purchased Bella Vella for $1.9 million at last year Magic Millions Broodmare Sale after her rise to Group 1 glory following being sold via online auction two years previous for just $22,500.

“She is a racehorse and she never lost the zest to race.”

Back in work with Will Clarken, the Morphettville trainer concedes that while her first mission and rise into the higher-grade racing was ultimately successful, there were mistakes he’s learned from this time around.

“I know we thought in a much lower grade she was ready to go first time out for us and she wasn’t, she wasn’t near ready,” Clarken said.

“I know this time we have to give her lot of galloping simulation before we take her to the races because she’s going to have to compete at a higher level straight away.”

“She’s going to have a lot of jumpouts, she’s had two already and I think she’ll have five trials before she goes to the races,” Clarken said.

“With a long layoff, we’ve just got to switch her back on again.

“There’s no pressure at all because Mitho (Anthony Mithen) and I have the same mindset, that the horse is 100 per cent the first priority.

“She has to go out there and not just run but be ultra-competitive first-up and, if she’s not, she’ll be going straight back to the paddock and waiting to get covered again next season.”

Bella Vella’s story started when her dam, Forget The Weather (Stormy Atlantic) was purchased by Glen Burrows’ Willow Park Stud for US$50,000 at the 2011 Keenland November Breeding Sale and imported to Australia. After losing an Exceed and Excel filly after birth in her first season, then owner Graham Watson sent the mare to Commands, resulting in Bella Vella.

Purchased by Paul Moroney Bloodstock from the draft of Willow Park Stud at the Magic Millions Gold Coast Yearling Sale in 2016 for $100,000, Bella Vella went on to notch up a win and two placings from four starts as a two year old for Flemington trainer Michael Maroney.

The filly was then moved north to Sydney in her three-year-old year, trialling once for Matthew Vella before being transferred Gai Waterhouse and Adrian Bott. She had two starts for a benchmark 64 win at Hawkesbury with the stable before being transferred back to Matthew Vella.

Bella Vella had nine race starts for Vella, resulting in a win and five placings in benchmark company before being ‘retired’ and sent to stud, visiting Criterion in the spring of 2018.

The mating didn’t result in a pregnancy, with it later being divulged that the stallion was suffering from fertility issues. The multiple Group 1 winner with earnings of $7 million stood three seasons at stud but is credited with just 19 offspring.

Bella Vella subsequently went on to race two more times for Vella, finishing down the order before being placed for sale in the Inglis Digital Monthly Online Sale in April of 2019 as a breeding or racing prospect.

This was where her story really took flight.

She was purchased for $22,500 by John Kelton, a professional punter who also raced 2012 Group One Mackinnon Stakes winner, Alcopop. A syndicate was formed among close mates to continue racing the mare, including Adelaide trainer Will Clarken.

Put back into work with Clarken at Morphettville, Bella Vella thrived in her new environment, romping in by three lengths in a 1050m benchmark 75 at her second start for her new owners in July of 2019 and notched up another win two starts later.

Bella Vella really started to turn heads in October when taken to Moonee Valley for Heat 3 of the 55 Second Challenge, scoring an emphatic 2.5 length victory in the 955m dash.

She then finished off her first preparation with Clarken with a fifth in the Listed Century Stakes (1000m) at Flemington and a second in a 1000m Benchmark 84 at Moonee Valley.

Bella Vella returned to the races at Moonee Valley on March 20, 2020 to clean up in the 55 Second Challenge Final, again with a 2.5 length victory.

Heading back to Adelaide, she claimed the Listed Furphy Stakes (Hills Railway Stakes) (1000m) and then the Group 1 TAB Classic (Robert Sangster Stakes) (1200m) as a $41 outsider with horse racing bookmakers.

The $22,500 buy had now become Clarken’s first Group 1 winner and also the first Group 1 winner to be purchased via online auction.

The following September she returned to Moonee Valley to win the Group 2 McEwan Stakes (1000m) before being narrowly beaten into third in the Group 1 Moir Stakes (1000m).

Bella Vella finished out of the placings in three of her last four starts, managing a third in the Group 2 Challenge Stakes (1000m) at Randwick on March 6, 2021 at her second last start.

After her final run in the Group 1 The Galaxy (1100m) where she was beaten nearly 11 lengths, her retirement was announced,

“We’ve said for some time now she is a race-by-race proposition with her forthcoming sale in late May at the Magic Millions Gold Coast Broodmare Sale,” said Clarken.

“It would have been nice to see her defending her Group 1 TAB Classic (Robert Sangster Stakes) title at Morphettville on May 1, but the connections and I know the time is right to pull the pin.”

Bella Vella was then knocked down to Rosemont Stud for a whopping $1.9 million at the Gold Coast.

“It’s a euphoric result,” part-owner and trainer Will Clarken said.

“Obviously it’s a bit of a strange feeling because she has been such a big part of my career.

“For me, the money is fantastic but more so the fact that people respected her as more than just a strong race mare.”

Clarken described the experience as “life changing” with the mare’s sale adding another chapter to their tale together.

“In a lifetime you could probably never do it again finding a mare like this,” Clarken said.

“We’d had some luck with tried mares before but never anything like this.”

Rosemont Stud were happy to part with the seven-figure sum for the mare, “She has electrifying speed and that was the catalyst to be strong on her,” Rosemont general manager Ryan McEvoy said at the time.

“We looked at every mare in the sale and this was just a mare where a group of friends were racing her and Will Clarken has done an amazing job.”

Although her lightening speed would be missed on the racetrack, all involved in the mare’s journey were excited to see what she could do at stud.

Being born and raised at Willow Park Stud just out of Scone in the famous Upper Hunter Valley, it had been very special for the team to watch her journey from an unknown to a Group 1 winner. Expressing after her retirement was announced, “We are so proud of Bella Vella, such a tough mare and one of the fastest horses born on the farm!

“We’ll miss seeing her on the track but can’t wait to see what she produces at stud.

“Well done to everyone involved with her career. Team Clarken, you have done an amazing job!”

Stud manager Jade Rossington recalls her always being a staff favourite and earning herself the nickname ‘Lucy’ when she came in for yearling prep because she liked to ‘talk a lot’, a trait shared by a good friend of the same name.

Bella Vella was covered three times by top stallion I Am Invincible in the 2021 season, but with no identifiable reason, she did not go in foal.

“When you purchase a mare for that sort of money with the view to get babies out of her, you want babies out of her, so it would be fair to say, we were pretty flat,” Rosemont director Anthony Mithen said.

“She was only retired because the breeding season was coming up, it wasn’t through injury or lack of form, so we thought, ‘Do we have a bit of a look’?”

From there Bella Vella was sent to pre-trainer Brad Pearson at Barwon Heads for some very light duties to see how she responded.

“It’s a bit like pulling the early 30s footballer out of retirement and just sit him in the forward pocket and see what happens,” Mithen said.

“Soon Brad was ringing and saying that she was looking to do more, come out of the forward pocket and move up the ground a bit, if you will.

“That was when I was able to make the happy phone call to Will Clarken to ask if he would like to take over the reins of Bella Vella again.”

“We’re still very much in the thought process that she’s only a bad gallop or bad trial away from being retired again and back on the green grass of Rosemont,” Mithen explained.

Bella Vella’s connections will have to request reinstatement of the mare from retirement by passing a Vet Certificate of Fitness after completing an Official Barrier Trial prior to accepting for a future race.

It is planned that Bella Vella will make her return on April 23 ahead of what is hoped to be the Group 1 Robert Sangster Stakes second-up, on May 7.

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