If there were any doubts about exciting three-year-old filly La Crique’s claims as a contender for top honours in next month’s Group 1 Vodafone New Zealand Derby (2400m), they were well and truly quelled as she decimated her rivals when winning the Group 2 AJC Avondale Guineas (2100m) at Ellerslie on Saturday.
The Simon and Katrina Alexander-trained daughter of Rich Hill Stud stallion Vadamos was coming into the race off the back of a stunning four-length victory in the Group 3 Desert Gold Stakes (1600m) at Trentham and was sent out a dominating +150 favourite.
In a field that contained most of the major Derby contenders, rider Craig Grylls settled La Crique in the trail behind a muddling pace set up by Group 2 Waikato Guineas (2000m) winner Field Of Gold.
Field Of Gold skipped two lengths clear rounding the home bend, but Grylls had him in his sights as he asked his mount for a serious effort.
The response was remarkable as she quickly hit top gear and bounded clear to win easing down by just under four lengths from minor placegetters Arjay’s Flight, Marchand and White Noise, who all finished on well, but were no match for the filly.
“It was a lovely tactical ride by Craig and good to see she can take ownership of a race when she wants to,” Katrina Alexander said.
“She is such an economical mover, a brilliant breather and I didn’t have any worries with the distance.
“She has just got that special turn of foot at both ends of her races as well.
“I didn’t expect Craig to go out quite so strong at the start of the race, but he has pulled the right rein and he knows that she will come back underneath him when he needs her to.”
Alexander will now keep her charge on an even keel as she counts down to a Derby start on March 5.
“Luckily she is an easy keeper and doesn’t cause us any grief, touch wood,” she said.
“It’s not far to the Derby, but things can still go wrong. If they ran it next week, I would probably be happier.”
Grylls had a smile from ear to ear as he spoke in glowing terms about his mount who will attempt to provide him with his second successive win in the Derby, and third in four years, after taking out the race in 2019 aboard the Stephen Marsh-trained Crown Prosecutor and again last year aboard the Lance O’Sullivan and Andrew Scott-trained Rocket Spade.
“She is a machine,” Grylls said.
“She got into the trail and just switched off beautifully, which is what we wanted to see.
“Field Of Gold put a nice little kick on us turning in, but she just jogged up and I just couldn’t believe how well we were going.
“She was strong through the line and like she did at Trentham, she got down low and flattened out nicely.
“The plan was to be handyish, but she got out of the gates really well and we had that head start advantage to get across and take a trail.
“She settled beautifully and it was the perfect trial for the Derby.”
Bookmakers responded quickly as they tightened La Crique into a +160 favourite for the Derby, ahead of Pinarello (+500) who impressively took out a rating 65 2100m contest later on the card.
Raced by her breeders, John and Jan Cassin, La Crique is out of the five-race winning Dubai Destination mare, Destiny Cove who was also raced by the Cassins and has produced the Vadamos filly along with her promising elder half-brother Bari (NZ) (Proisir).
The victory adds further interest to the progeny of European Group One winner Vadamos at the upcoming New Zealand Bloodstock National Yearling Sale, with four individuals set to go through the auction ring at Karaka during the Book 1 sale that runs from March 7-9, while a further five yearlings will be available during the Book 2 sale from March 10-12.