Malaguerra has equalled a long-standing track record held by Miss Andretti to win the Group 2 Australia Stakes at Moonee Valley on Friday night.
The classy Peter Gelagotis-trained five-year-old was steered expertly by Ben Melham and held off the bookies’ elect Black Heart Bart ($2.40) and a spirited performance from Sirbible ($28).
Malaguerra, the group 1 winning sprinter, was a popular winner after jumping at $4.20. Remarkably Malaguerra equalled Moonee Valley’s 1200m record of 1min 9.29 sec, set by Miss Andretti in September of 2006.
“It was good to win on this horse, he’s a favourite of mine, the boys have done a fantastic job with him,” Melham said.
“When I trialled him I was amazed with the way he looked and the job that they’d done. He trialled really well.”
Melham said the barrier draw, where they received 9, was a concern for connections, but these fears were allayed on the night with several horses coming off the fence and winning earlier races.
“I was able to sit off the back of them with a nice bit of cover and let this horse do the rest,” Melham said.
“He’s a very nice galloper and he deserved to win.”
In just his third race for Gelagotis since owner Bruno Micalizzi ditched Hall of Fame trainer Lee Freedman, Malaguerra has improved rapidly, and looks to be an even better horse than the one that won the Group 1 Darley Classic in November, the first preparation under the new trainer.
Last start Malaguerra drew poorly for the G1 Winterbottom Stakes in Perth, but ran on strongly to finish fifth behind Takedown. Gelagotis, who trains out of Moe, said the experience of travelling had helped mature the horse. A short spell since then has got the gelding ready for an assault on the Autumn Carnival.
“He had a very short break and the people that look after our horses Kaz and Drew Morphett said: ‘Peter this horse is going exceptionally well, you want to come and have a look at him’,” An elated Gelagotis said.
“I went down and had a look at him and he just looked unbelievable.”
“I said to Bruno this horse has gone to another level, two weeks into work and he’s just a different horse, he’s really come of age and he’s going places.”
Sirbible was ridden by champion hoop Darren Gauci who recently announced his retirement as a jockey. In his final few race meetings a win on the $28 shot would have been a unbelievable fairytale.
For a while it looked like it might happen with Sirbible leading the strong field at the turn, when threatened he kicked again, but eventually Malaguerra reeled it in.
“He did give a good sight, at the top of the straight he was challenged and he fought back,” Gauci said.
“I thought he’s not with yet and he actually gave a kick. He’s one of those horses run at a hot tempo most of the way.
“The trainer did really well – he ran out of his skin today.”
Darren Weir was happy with the performance of Black Heart Bart, who is being set for an assault on the Group 1 Newmarket Handicap, to be run on March 11. Another Weir-trained horse Palentino produced an eye catching performance to flash home for fourth.
Gelagotis said he would be targeting 1400m features the Futurity Stakes and the CF Orr Stakes at Caulfield with Malaguerra.