Jamie Richards has been on the ride of his life in Australia this spring and the young Matamata trainer is hoping New Zealand’s darling of the turf, Melody Belle, can cap it off in style at Flemington on Saturday.
The reigning New Zealand Horse of the Year will line-up in the Group 1 Mackinnon Stakes (2000m) at the Melbourne racecourse, the site of her Group 1 heroics in the Empire Rose Stakes (1600m) last weekend. “She broke the pattern of the day,” Richards said. “She came from off the speed and quickened well.”
It was one of the biggest moments in Richards’ fledgling career and he hopes that Group One feeling will return on Saturday. “It was a big thrill on Saturday,” he said. “Gingernuts won the Rosehill Guineas (Group 1, 2000m) in Australia when I was training with Steve (Autridge), but to go to Melbourne in the spring on arguably the biggest day of the year was very exciting and I was very pleased that she could put it all together.”
The Empire Rose victory gave Richards, Te Akau principal David Ellis and Fortuna Syndications manager John Galvin, the confidence to press on to the Mackinnon rather than the Group 2 Matriarch Stakes (2000m) on Saturday. “There’s a big difference in the prizemoney,” he said. “It’s very hard to fault her form and we think she deserves an opportunity to have a go at the best of them.”
Melody Belle will be vying to record her eleventh Group 1 victory, and fifth in-a-row, in the 2000m feature, but she will need to overcome barrier 15 in the 16 horse field. It is not the first time Richards has been met with such a hurdle this spring. Te Akau Shark was dealt the outside barrier in the Group 1 Cox Plate (2040m), but a gun ride by leading New Zealand hoop Opie Bosson resulted in a game third-placing. “We are going to need a little bit of luck with the way the barriers have come out, but hopefully there is good tempo in the race and we can get back a little bit, where hopefully she can finish off as strongly as she did last Saturday,” Richards said.
He has been happy with the way Melody Belle has pulled up after Saturday’s assignment and he will fly out on Wednesday night to watch her last piece of work before Saturday. “She has done well, we have been pleased with her,” Richards said. “She has eaten reasonably well. “We haven’t done too much with her. She has been to the beach a couple of times and did a little bit of pace work. “I’m going to go over tonight, she is going to do a bit of three-quarter work in the morning and I think that should be all she needs.”
Melody Belle is unbeaten over 2000m and Richards is hoping to keep that record intact on Saturday. “In the Livamol (Group 1, 2040m), she probably didn’t beat much that day, but at Ellerslie in the autumn when she beat Danzdanzdance on a heavy track in the Bonecrusher (Group 1, 2000m) certainly suggested that she has got a bit of stamina and she can handle the trip. The 2000m doesn’t look to worry her.”
Melody Belle and Danzdanzdance, who is now trained by Chris Waller in Sydney, could meet once again on Saturday, however, being the first emergency, Danzdanzdance would require a scratching to make the field. While Melody Belle has proven herself at elite level in Australia, the $57,500 Karaka yearling sale purchase by David Ellis is set to return to Australian shores next year in a bid to chase more Group 1 spoils. “She will be in the spelling paddock on Monday and she will be coming back to New Zealand for a break,” Richards said. “Hopefully we can crank her up in the autumn and get her back over to Australia.”
Meanwhile, Richards will also be vying for stakes success at Riccarton on Saturday where Aotea Lad will contest the Group 1 Al Basti Equiworld New Zealand 2000 Guineas (1600m) and Al Haram will tackle the Listed Redwood Metropolitan Trophy Handicap (2500m). “Aotea Lad needs to improve a little bit and we think he can,” Richards said. “We were hoping he was going to draw a soft barrier and get a soft run, but unfortunately he has drawn out (barrier nine) as well. “Catalyst will be hard to beat, but funny things do happen in racing. “We have also got Al Haram down there, he is going well. He is a very fit horse and he should appreciate the 2500m.”
Richards is also expecting a good showing from four-win gelding Remington in the Energy Events Centre Rotorua Premier (1600m). “He is probably a runner down there in the (rating) 82 mile that hasn’t had a lot of luck,” he said. “He has been running well without running in the top three. I think he could seriously improve his form line on Saturday.”