The New Zealanders have had an up-and-down start to the day at Rosehill, with a disappointing late scratching followed almost immediately by a superb Group Three win.
Rosehill Guineas second favourite Madison County suffered abrasions on his way to the track today and was late-scratched around midday local time after two vet inspections. His wounds have been described as superficial and he is now likely to line up in next Saturday’s Tulloch Stakes.
But when the racing action got underway half an hour later, top-class filly Avantage wasted no time in getting the Kiwis’ day right back on track in the A$160,000 Birthday Card Stakes.
Making her first start since winning the Gold Trail Stakes in September and on her Australian debut, the Fastnet Rock filly was sent out as a $5.50 second favourite behind Godolphin’s Resin ($4.40).
Avantage and jockey Opie Bosson raced on the pace throughout the 1200-metre fillies and mares’ event, but they were clearly headed by Resin in the straight.
It looked like Avantage was beaten, but then she summoned a second wind. She clawed her way back level with Resin, then found even more. By the finish line, a near-certain defeat had been turned into a three-quarter-length victory.
“She’s a lovely little filly and she doesn’t know when to lie down,” Bosson said. “I gave her a couple with the stick and she really stuck in. She’s a top-quality filly back home and she has done nothing wrong so far.
“She doesn’t normally get too warm before a race, so I was a bit worried that she was too fresh today. But all credit to Jamie (Richards, trainer). He has done a terrific job to have her ready first-up.
“She’s got heaps of improvement. She had such a long time off. This is a bonus win first-up.”
The winner of last season’s Karaka Million and Gr. 1 Manawatu Sires’ Produce Stakes, Avantage has now had eight starts for seven wins, one second and more than $820,000 in prize-money for owners the Te Akau Avantage Syndicate. She was a $210,000 yearling purchase by Te Akau principal David Ellis.
“She’s a very good filly and is probably unlucky not to be unbeaten,” Richards said. “She had a muscle issue in the spring and just needed a bit of time, and all the staff have done a great job to get her back so well. She trialled well at Avondale at home and travelled over in very good order.
“I probably didn’t expect her to land in front today, but I thought it was a lovely patient ride by Opie, he never panicked. He got headed but she fought back to win well.
“She’s always been a high-class filly and hopefully we can work through to The Championships now with a little bit of confidence that hopefully she can step up.
“She’s pencilled to go to the Arrowfield Sprint. We’ll keep her nice and fresh. I think the three weeks suits and hopefully she can be competitive. We’ve got to take on the boys, that’s where the money is and that’s what we’re here for.”
The Gr. 2 Arrowfield 3YO Sprint will be run for A$1 million over 1200 metres at Randwick on April 13.
Expat New Zealand jockey James McDonald has ridden a number of winners in the Te Akau colours, and after finishing second on Resin today he gave all credit to the Kiwis.
“Good tough run, she just got outfought,” he said.