Group 1 glory for On The Rocks (NZ)

$40,000 Select Sale graduate On The Rocks (NZ) (Alamosa) was already a dual Group 2 winner who had delivered priceless thrills for his owners, but he went to a new level in Saturday’s $400,000 Group 1 Herbie Dyke Stakes (2000m) at Te Rapa.

With an emphatic performance in New Zealand’s richest weight-for-age race, the four-year-old entire took his prize-money earnings to $432,575 – more than 10 times his purchase price.

“He’s a great little horse,” co-trainer Pam Gerard said. “He’s been underrated all the way along. He’s only a little grey thing, but he has a huge heart. He’s a stable pet and we all love him.

“He’s still an entire, but we’d never really considered the prospect of a stallion career – maybe that could change now.

“He races for a crazy group of owners. We’re all having so much fun, and hopefully he’s not finished yet.”

Ridden by Jake Bayliss, On The Rocks settled midfield before swinging out wide to make his run in the straight.

The grey stretched out impressively to win by a length and a quarter from the second-placed Tiptonic (NZ) (O’Reilly), who was a $100,000 purchase at the 2015 Premier Sale and has now earned $186,700 in stakes. On The Rocks and Tiptronic also finished first and second in last month’s $100,000 Group 2 Rich Hill Mile (1600m) at Ellerslie.

On The Rocks has now had 12 starts for five wins and two placings for owners Ballymore Stables NZ Ltd, A Clark, N Gurney, A Mathieson, On The Rocks Syndicate, D P Sinn, Richard Sims, Jim Bebedellis, George Alas and John McNicholas.

His previous black-type wins came in the Rich Hill Mile, the $100,000 Group 2 Avondale Guineas (2100m) and the $50,000 Listed Trevor Eagle Memorial (1500m).

“This horse is as tough as nails and you couldn’t hope for better owners to ride for,” Bayliss said. It’s really special to ride the first Group One winner for Pam, who’s been like family to me. This is one of the highlights of my career.

“We’re on a great ride with this horse. You think back to his maiden win at Tauranga, and look what he’s done now.”

Vendor Wellfield Lodge
Purchaser Paul Moroney Bloodstock
Breeding Alamosa – Cold Shoulder
Sale Lot 801, 2016 Select Sale, $40,000
Bred by W J Gleeson

In other news bought for just $57,500 at the 2016 Premier Sale, Melody Belle (NZ) (Commands) is now a four-time Group 1 winner.

The quartet of elite wins was completed at Te Rapa on Saturday, where she prevailed in a heart-stopping finish to the $200,000 Group 1 BCD Group Sprint (1400m).

Melody Belle originally rose to stardom as a two-year-old, when she won the Karaka Million (1200m), the Group 1 Manawatu Sires’ Produce Stakes (1400m) and the Group 2 BRC Sires’ Produce Stakes (1400m).

After an up-and-down season as a three-year-old, she roared back last spring with back-to-back Group 1 wins in the Tarzino Trophy (1400m) and Windsor Park Plate (1600m). She returned from a spell with a brave third after a wide run in the Group 1 Sistema Railway Stakes (1200m) at Ellerslie, but didn’t fire in the Group 1 Telegraph (1200m) at Trentham two weeks later.

On Saturday she was right back at her very best. Hopelessly blocked behind a line of horses at the top of the straight, she and jockey Troy Harris dived through on the inside of Bostonian (NZ) (Jimmy Choux) and Ardrossan (Redoute’s Choice) to win by a head.

“I must admit I gave her away a bit at the top of the straight,” trainer Jamie Richards said. “Full credit to the horse, she is just so tough and never gives up.

“I don’t know what happened at Trentham, but that is the real Melody Belle today.”

Bought by Te Akau Racing principal David Ellis from the draft of Haunui Farm, Melody Belle is raced by the Fortuna Melody Belle Syndicate.

She has now had 18 starts for nine wins, three placings and $1.38 million in stakes – 24 times her purchase price.

Vendor Haunui Farm
Purchaser Mr DC Ellis (Te Akau)
Breeding Commands – Meleka Belle
Sale Lot 395, 2016 Premier Sale, $57,500
Bred by Mrs N M Leicester

Fairytale filly Imelda Mary (NZ) (Ferlax) is now a dual Group 2 winner and the New Zealand Bloodstock Filly of the Year Series leader, courtesy of her victory in Saturday’s $100,000 Group 2 Cambridge Stud Sir Tristram Fillies’ Classic (2000m) at Te Rapa.

She was bought for $3,500 at the 2017 Festival Sale at Karaka by Wayne Hillis, who named her after his mother. She is trained by Hillis, who shares ownership with Chris Delamore and Ross Robertson.

A close fifth in the Group 1 New Zealand 1000 Guineas (1600m) in November, Imelda Mary burst into Filly of the Year Series contention with her victory in the Group 2 Valachi Downs Royal Stakes (2000m) on New Year’s Day.

Following a close eighth in the Karaka Million 3YO Classic (1600m), Imelda Mary stepped back up to 2000 metres on Saturday and again showed her class.

Ridden by Cameron Lammas, she was handily placed in fourth through the early stages of the race. The pressure increased approaching the home turn as a number of fillies made moves from the back, and Lammas went with them.

Hitting the lead 300 metres from home, Imelda Mary looked vulnerable as challengers stormed home after her. But the gutsy filly dug deep and fought them all off, winning by three-quarters of a length. Sentimental Miss (NZ) (Reliable Man) took second, with Queen of Diamonds (NZ) (Savabeel) third.

“She’s a good filly – she had the lead pretty much at the top of the straight today and had to fight them all off,” Hillis said. “She went well dropping to 1600 metres last start, and back up to 2000 today suited her.”

Imelda Mary has now had 15 starts for three wins, four placings and $168,850 in prize-money – more than 48 times her purchase price.

“This is very, very special,” Hillis said. “Age is catching up with Mum a bit these days, but she loves racing and she’s getting a real kick out of this. It’s a fairytale.

“Now we hope this fairytale can continue in the (Group 1) New Zealand Oaks (March 16). I think she’ll go to the Lowland Stakes for her lead-up.”

Imelda Mary earned another 8 points for Saturday’s win, taking her to 16 and four clear of long-time leader Media Sensation (I Am Invincible). Sentimental Miss and Queen of Diamonds earned 4 points and 2 points for their placings, moving them to 4 and 10 respectively.

The Series continues in the $100,000 Group 2 Little Avondale Lowland Stakes (2100m) at Hastings on February 27.

Vendor Haunui Farm
Purchaser Mr WP & Mrs VD Hillis
Breeding Ferlax – Eleesha
Sale Lot 1189, 2017 Festival Sale, $3,500
Bred by GSA Bloodstock Pty Ltd