Maria Farina shines in King’s Plate

Maria Farina
Sam Weatherley drives Maria Farina to victory in the Group 3 King’s Plate (1200m) at Ellerslie. Photo: Kenton Wright (Race Images)

Underrated mare Maria Farina outsprinted several of the country’s top gallopers to secure Saturday’s Group 3 King’s Plate (1200m) at Ellerslie.

The daughter of Contributer has flown relatively under the radar this season, despite having accumulated six career victories, including the Listed Lightning Handicap (1200m), and Listed Stewards’ Stakes (1200m) during New Zealand Cup Week in November.

Maria Farina lined up in both the Group 1 Railway (1200m) and Group 1 Telegraph (1200m) over the summer months with regular pilot Sam Weatherley aboard, and despite finishing sixth and fifth respectively, her sizzling sectionals in the latter indicated the best was yet to come.

Prepared by Weatherley’s father Darryn and sister Briar, the mare contested a quality six-horse line-up in the King’s Plate, which included Telegraph winner Mercurial, as well as Group 1 BCD Group Sprint (1400m) victor Bonny Lass, who started a warm $2.50 favourite.

Jumping from barrier three, Weatherley settled Maria Farina near the tail of the field, avoiding early carnage up-front as Mercurial was badly checked when trying to slot inside of pacemaker Not Guilty.

Weatherley sat ice-cold in behind Bonny Lass as the field descended down the straight, and when the gap came at the 150m, Maria Farina showed a devastating turn-of-foot to the post, though not without a few nervous moments for connections as Dragon Leap scorched down the outside to force a photo-finish.

The unorthodox mare pulled herself up shortly after the line, delight soon appearing on Weatherley’s face as the judge confirmed Maria Farina had triumphed in the $150,000 event by the narrowest of margins.

The 24-year-old hoop had won the previous race aboard Dame Lilibic, and indicated quiet confidence in Maria Farina, that was duly rewarded.

2024 King’s Plate Replay – Maria Farina

“I have no doubt in saying it, she should’ve won the Telegraph, and on her day, I think she’s nearly the fastest horse in the country,” Sam Weatherley said.

“She’s just so difficult to ride, you’ve got to hold and hold her up. It didn’t go to plan early, but it was probably the right way to ride her, just sit back and bide my time. When we burst through, on any other horse you’d think you’re home and hosed, but she has a bit of a tendency to pull up.

“I’m just so thrilled for the family, she really deserves a big one and if we can keep going, there’s a chance she might.”

Darryn was full of compliments for his son post-race.

“I think Sam’s been watching the tapes, that was a 10 out of 10 ride,” he said.

“She’s been consistent all year round and really deserves it, we own half of her which is really good, just a beautiful result.

“My feed merchant will sleep well tonight I’m picking.”

The Weatherley’s bred the mare alongside part-owner Barry Wright, the combination also breeding her half-brother, last-season’s Group 1 New Zealand 2000 Guineas (1600m) winner Pier, both being out of La Vitesse.

Darryn indicated Wright was hoping to test Maria Farina over 1600m, with the ultimate goal being the Group 1 New Zealand Thoroughbred Breeders’ Stakes (1600m) at Te Aroha on March 30.

“We were looking at going to a 1400m at Tauranga in a few weeks’ time, and just hoping to throw the anchor out to get her to a mile in the fillies’ and mares’ weight-for-age,” he said.

“My partner (owner, Barry Wright) has always wanted to try her at a mile, whether he’s right I’m not sure but we’ll have a crack.”

Daughter Briar also painted an emotional picture in the birdcage.

“This mare means everything to me, sometimes you just need that one horse that gets you out of bed in the morning, and for me, that’s her,” she said.

“She’s been unlucky all preparation, and she so deserved this win. I’m absolutely thrilled.”

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