Almost all of the spring’s brightest two-year-old talent gathered at Pukekohe on Saturday for New Zealand’s first black-type juvenile race of the season, but it was the unbeaten filly Velocious who soared above her contemporaries and dominated the Listed Counties Challenge Stakes (1100m).
The $65,000 feature attracted a field of only five, but four of them had already been highly impressive winners. Velocious scored on debut at Te Rapa two weeks ago, while Poetic Champion and Savaglee had scored breathtaking debut wins by six and four lengths respectively. Bellatrix Star won the first two-year-old race of the season at Wanganui in September and had subsequently placed behind Velocious at Te Rapa.
The Challenge Stakes was by far the biggest clash of the two-year-old season so far, and an early opportunity to see how these visually impressive winners stacked up against one another. Go Racing’s rising star Velocious provided an emphatic answer.
The Written Tycoon filly was ridden by Sam Spratt and took up a position in third place along the rail. Savaglee and Poetic Champion both showed plenty of early speed in the first 200m, with Savaglee spearing forward from the outside gate and taking the lead into the first turn.
But the brakes went on coming down the side of the track, and Velocious was moving forward and breathing down the necks of the leaders with nowhere to go.
By the time she was able to get across heels and into clear air out wide on the track, the sprint was on with only 200m remaining. But Velocious accelerated brilliantly and swept past Poetic Champion, Bellatrix Star and Savaglee, clearing out to win by a length and a half.
“They eased up a little bit as the race went on, and I was a bit worried that they might kick away at the corner,” Spratt said. “But she was pretty impressive last time without me having to ask her to do much, so I was fairly confident that she’d find the line again today.
“She’s a really nice filly. I think she’s going to be even better as a three-year-old and later. What she’s doing now, I think she’s just doing it on ability and class.”
Go Racing and Stephen Marsh went one better on Saturday than they did in 2012, when their filly Ruud Awakening finished second behind Bounding in this race. She won all of her next three starts, including the Karaka Million (1200m) and the Group 1 Sistema Stakes (1200m), and was named the season’s champion two-year-old.
“You’d have to start thinking about the Ruud Awakening comparisons after that performance,” Marsh said. “She looked awesome today.
“There wasn’t as much early speed as I thought there would be. We got back in the trail, and then they’ve really walked them.
“We had to come across their heels, and I thought they might be hard to get past after they had it pretty cheap in front. Jeez, to her credit, she knuckled down. She’s won really well in the end. That was smart – very smart.”
Going into Saturday’s race, online bookmakers rated Savaglee a $5 favourite for the Karaka Millions 2YO at Ellerslie in late January, with Poetic Champion and Velocious sharing second favouritism at $7. Velocious is now a clear market leader at $3, with Bellatrix Star at $8 and Poetic Champion moving out to $10.
“She can have a little break now and we’ll just set her for the Karaka Millions,” Marsh said. “She’s beautifully bred and a stakes winner now, so it’s all ahead of her.
“She’ll have another run between now and then, but whether that’s New Year’s Day or somewhere else, we’ll decide a bit closer to the time. As long as we get her to the Karaka Millions in tip-top form, we’ll be all right.”
Velocious was bred by Inglewood Stud, who offered her in their Book 1 draft at Karaka earlier this year. She was bought by Go Racing for $190,000.
From two starts, Velocious has now had two wins and over $86,000 in stakes, with the promise of much more to come.
“Though the last decade or so, we’ve focused quite a lot on getting staying types of horses to race in Australia,” Go Racing manager Albert Bosma said. “We had a chat last year and said that we needed to try to buy horses for the Karaka Millions as well. This filly was one of the ones that we bought, and what she’s done so far is great for everyone involved.
“It’s been a fantastic effort from Stephen Marsh. He trained Ruud Awakening for us all those years ago, and we can’t wait to see if he can do it again.
“It’s very exciting to have such a live chance for the Karaka Millions. That’s our biggest raceday, with three of our biggest races on one card. If you can perform on that stage, I don’t think you can do much better than that in New Zealand.”