Simon Zahra says Aristia’s Kennedy Oaks win might turn out to be a defining moment in a training partnership with his cousin Mathew Ellerton.
Zahra couldn’t hide his delight at landing a first major staying victory in the three-year-old fillies’ classic at Flemington today.
“Getting a staying Group One under our belt is probably more important than anything,” Zahra said. “It proves to a lot of people that we can train stayers if we get the right horses.
“We’ve been pin-pointed as sprinter-miler type trainers and when people buy stayers, even overseas, they don’t think of us. For our CV it’s very, very important.”
Ridden by Damian Lane, Aristia scored a three-quarter length victory over Greysful Glamour. The 100-to-one shot Miner’s Miss finished the same margin away third.
Stayers have been hard to come by for Ellerton and Zahra with Aristia their second only Oaks runner, having finished third with Solicit in 2013.
Zahra said their only previous Derby runner was “about five years ago” and they’d never had a Melbourne Cup starter. Now Zahra is hoping to open the stable door to more horses.
“If we can get a few more numbers in the door, I’m sure we can be competitive,” Zahra said. “We’ve got 55 in work, sometimes 60, but to compete with the big stables you need a huge turnover. Mathew and I are hands-on and want to keep it that way.”
Aristia raced her way into Oaks calculations with victory in the Wakeful Stakes last Saturday and became the 36th filly, but the first since Kirramosa in 2013, to claim the Wakeful-Oaks double.
The daughter of Lonhro was originally aiming towards last month’s Thousand Guineas at Caulfield, but after contesting the Prelude in September the trainers selected a different path.
“We had to give her a six-day back up after the Thousand Guineas Prelude to get her on the Ethereal and Wakeful path,” Zahra said. “It wasn’t ideal, but in the end it didn’t hurt and it might have been a blessing.”
Lane described today’s win as his biggest thrill in racing, having been associated with Ellerton and Zahra since arriving from Perth.
“When I moved to Melbourne I lived in Matty’s home for the first six or seven months,” Lane said. “He’s always treated me like a family member. He always took care of me and I will always appreciate that.”
Third placegetter Miner’s Miss delivered a special performance for the Payne family, ridden by Michelle and trained by her father Paddy.
Former New Zealand filly Verry Elleegant finished seventh, making up some ground out wide in the straight after racing fiercely in the early stages.
“Look, you can’t win a Group One race when you pull for the first mile,” rider John Allen said. “She just never really got in her rhythm, and the slow tempo didn’t help either.
“Start from scratch next prep, and hopefully she can learn to do things properly.”
Her stablemate, the favourite Amphitrite, was eased down in the closing stages by jockey Craig Williams.
“Got into a lovely position and had the right horses to take us into the race,” he said.
“She came under pressure before we straightened, and she wanted to lean in – which is normal for her, I know her well.
“I put her under full pressure and she put in a couple of short strides, so her welfare had to come first, so I eased her up out of the race.”