It was hard to take the smile off Shaune Ritchie’s face after his gutsy filly Bella Mente picked up a placing at Group One level in yesterday’s Courtesy Ford Manawatu Sires’ Produce Stakes at Awapuni.

The daughter of El Roca was one of the outsiders in yesterday’s field despite a tidy form line that included a fourth in the Gr. 2 Matamata Breeders’ Stakes at her most recent start.

Ritchie and Bella Mente’s large group of owners bypassed the Gr. 1 Sistema Stakes at Ellerslie in favour of yesterday’s event, and they were rewarded with an outstanding performance to finish within half-a length of eventual winner Yourdeel.

Ritchie admitted he was starting to get more than a little excited at the 150-metre mark when Bella Mente briefly hit the front.

“She looked like the winner momentarily, so the excitement levels were right up there,” he said. “She was really kicking strongly at that point, but I looked across and saw the good horse (Yourdeel) coming and I knew we were in trouble then.

“She didn’t give it away at any stage, so to pick up a Group One placing at just her fourth start is fantastic for everyone involved in her.”

Ritchie believed the $37 odds didn’t reflect the true chances of his charge.

“I think she might have been overlooked by many and we thought she was a much better chance than what the tote was saying,” he said.

“She went a terrific race at Matamata as she was wide most of the way while the first two home got inside runs.

“We missed Ellerslie and the heavy track that day, so she was the fresh horse on the scene and we knew she was at her peak for this one.

“She certainly did us proud and I can’t wait to see how good she can be for her three-year-old campaign. She will go out for a good spell now and we will bring her back with the intention of getting her to the 1000 Guineas at Riccarton.”

Ritchie was also pleased to see talented stayer Excalibur make a solid return at Ellerslie yesterday, running on nicely over 1400 metres.

“He didn’t really come up as well as we would have liked and wasn’t finishing his races off that well, so we tipped him out for a freshen-up,” he said. “I thought he went quite a cheeky race, so, if he can make some progress from there, we will have some nice options with him including some races over in Australia over the next few months.”