Three-year-old colt Virtuous Circle narrowly prevailed in the Hugh Wallace-Smith Handicap (1500m) at The Valley on Saturday, to make the perfect start to his classic season.
Prepared by Kyneton trainer Liam Howley, the Alamanzor colt rocked punters when scoring at $61 in the Mornington Sires’ (1500m) back in March, and again got the better of the betting public when saluting at $26 to extend his record to two victories from three starts.
A Group One winning trainer, Howley has made no secret of how highly he rates the New Zealand-bred youngster and has bold plans for the colt.
“He is certainly a colt on the up and internally, we thought he was going super, so it was good to see him get the job done again,” Howley said.
“First preparation, every time we raised the bar it was a case of is he going to get there. This time in he has ticked every box along the way and he keeps telling us that he is ready for it and hopefully there is a big spring ahead of him.
“I thought maybe we’ll come back for the Stutt Stakes (Group 2, 1600m) and then decide whether we look at the Caulfield Guineas (Group 1, 1600m) or stretch him out after that. He has certainly got the scope and hopefully we’re in for an exciting spring.”
Virtuous Circle settled back on the fence and rider Blaike McDougall saved ground into the straight and the youngster wound up powerfully to get the deciding stride in from Per Incanto colt Castillian.
Significantly, New Zealand bred gallopers comprised six of the nine-horse field and were the first six past the post.
“He’s still a bit raw, but he gave me a great feeling and Liam has done a fantastic job with him,” McDougall said.
Bred by Diane McDonald and Rob Mulcaster, the colt was offered by Wentwood Grange at the Sydney Classic Yearling Sale where Howley signed the ticket at A$360,000 with Andrew Williams Bloodstock and Bevan Smith Bloodstock.
Virtuous Circle is a half-brother to Listed Castletown Stakes (1200m) winner Danger Strykes.
So taken was Howley by Virtuous Circle, he went to A$225,000 to secure his full brother at the Gold Coast Yearling Sale earlier this year.
By New Zealand’s Champion First Season Sire Almanzor, who stands at Cambridge Stud for a fee of $50,000 plus GST, the triple Group One winning son of Wootton Bassett continues to make an impression with his progeny that have just turned three, with last-week’s Sydney winner Manzoice also a Classic contender this spring.