My Clementina, the 10-start maiden who has won five from five on the picnic circuit since making her amateur debut in November, might have some serious competition in the race for Picnic Horse of the Year honours.
Rachael Cunningham’s five-year-old gelding Zontario has been a revelation this summer, winning five straight races.
He still has some way to go to match My Clementina for the picnic prize, however, as two of Zontario’s wins have come at the professionals.
Heading into the Boxing Day meeting at Drouin, Zontario was an 11-start maiden showing little to indicate he could string two wins together, let alone five.
At Drouin, with jockey Max Keenan adopting the “pedal to the metal at the 600m” tactics for the first time, Zontario shot well clear before the turn and won by 7¾ lengths.
The flashy grey scored similar wins at Hanging Rock on New Year’s Day, Woolamai on January 19 and Hanging Rock again on Australia Day before another dashing display last Saturday in the Alex Scott and Staff Woolamai Cup (1708m).
Zontario ($1.65 favourite) finished seven lengths clear of Golden Tart to take his cumulative winning margin to 28¼ lengths.
Having been at Hanging Rock on Australia Day, I can attest that the dashing grey is a superb example of a happy, healthy horse who is simply thriving on his racing.
He looked amazing, and the joy that the stable and owners derived from their charge serves as a reminder that any win can be special.
Mick Bell’s well travelled seven-year-old gelding Celestial Sky ($8) made light work of his hefty 70kg impost to take out the third on the Woolamai card, the Bendigo Bank San Remo Open Trophy Race (2308m).
Saturday’s win was the gelding’s fifth on the picnic circuit and ninth overall.
Confidently ridden by Dani Walker, Celestial Sky was sent well clear before the turn and held a clear margin on the line over the placegetters, who carried seven and nine kilos less than the winner respectively.
While Bell was not in attendance to see the win, he had good reason not to be — his star sprinter Jungle Edge was busy running second to Nature Strip in the Group 2 Rubiton Stakes at Caulfield.
Earlier, Team Waymouth combined to record their third win on the trot with recent acquisition Sally Sells Shells ($1.55 favourite).
Since joining Rebecca Waymouth’s stable in December, the Per Incanto has won three of her four starts, all three wins coming at Woolamai.
Last Saturday’s win in the second on the card, the Porps 60th Birthday Trophy Race (1008m), was perhaps the easiest of the lot.
While she did win by 6¾ lengths on January 19, that was a match race, so she only had to dispose of one rival.
Saturday’s win by 5½ lengths came at the expense of six rivals and was equally impressive, with Debbie Waymouth sending the mare well clear before the turn and idling down to an easy win.
The next Woolamai meeting, on Saturday February 23, looks the logical destination for the budding track-specialist.
Count gets cash
Nine-year-old Count the Interest ($4.80) chalked up his 11th win in 59 starts when successful in the first on the program, the TS Constructions Open Trophy Race (1008m).
A five-time winner on his home track at Cranbourne, the Gary Mallinson-prepared gelding was having his first run at the picnics.
With ten wins at the professionals on his résumé, I was surprised he went around at the price that he did.
Under vigorous riding from Raymond Douglas, Count the Interest put a length and a half on the field as they turned for home. While he got a bit tired late, he had just under half a length up his sleeve on the line.
The Barry Goodwin-trained $3.60 favourite Freedoms was 1600m back to 1008m and resuming off a short break.
He did well to run into second after spotting the leader three lengths turning. He will no doubt be better suited back out to 1200m and beyond in the coming weeks.
Courtney kicks clear
Leading rider Courtney Pace extended her premiership lead to four with a win in the only maiden run on a program curtailed by strong winds, the “5 Blind” Maiden Plate (1508m).
Well rated in the first half of the event, the Don Dwyer-trained Something Missing ($2.70 favourite) travelled easily in the run, and it was clear 600m out that Pace’s rivals were going to have a tough time making any headway, having given her a soft lead.
On the line, Something Missing had three-quarters of a length to spare over the long-time maiden Roccachilli ($4), who notched his sixth placing in 26 starts.
The Barry Goodwin-trained Allabout Thatbass ($5.50) never really had a chance the way the race was run, and his effort to run into third was good.
Now that the grey has had three runs in from a decent break, I expect him to be just about winning next time out.
Next Saturday sends the Victorian picnic circuit to the east of the state for the running of the 2019 Buchan Cup.