Tomelilla (Troy Harris, inside) edges out She's Poppy (Shaun McKay) in a desperate finish to the Ag Challenge Stakes.
Tomelilla faced different track conditions and a classy weight-for-age field in today’s Listed Ag Challenge Stakes at Wanganui, but neither of those were enough to stop a mare in the form of her life.
Owners Maryanne Baker and Greg Jones nearly sold Tomelilla early last month, but their decision to withdraw her from the May Sale was immediately and richly rewarded with her first black-type win in the Gr. 3 Rotorua Stakes.
The Rotorua track was a Heavy11 that day, loosened by persistent rain throughout the afternoon, and the Tavistock mare glided through it to comfortably beat her stablemate Deals In Heels in the fillies and mares’ feature.
Three weeks later, she returned to action against all comers in today’s Ag Challenge Stakes. The Wanganui track had also been in the heavy range earlier in the week, but several days of fine weather turned it into a sticky and holding Slow9.
Along with the different conditions, Tomelilla came up against some well-credentialled local opposition this afternoon. She’s Poppy was a fellow last-start stakes winner, having won the Rangitikei Gold Cup two weeks ago, while Overtheriver and Scapolo have won a remarkable 39 races between them. Taurus is an Ag Challenge Stakes specialist with a win, three placings and a fifth from five previous attempts at the race.
However, even though she was pushed every step of the way by She’s Poppy, it was Tomelilla who once again came out on top.
The two high-flying mares dropped back to the tail of the field early as Petite En Jeu took a clear lead in the 1590-metre race.
Tomelilla and She’s Poppy went wide in the straight, sprinting side by side with big strides down the outside of the track. They raced past Taurus, Ringo and Petite En Jeu and went clear to fight out a thrilling head-bobbing finish, with Tomelilla winning by a nose. Taurus was a length behind in third, placing in this Listed race for the fourth time.
“She was very tough today,” Tomelilla’s rider Troy Harris said. “She’s a horse who really wants rain on the day. I wasn’t confident at all turning in, and it was really only towards the end that she really took off. She struggled a bit in the track.
“But it always helps when you’re on Baker-Forsman runners – you just need to look at their record.”
Tomelilla’s win was the 122nd of the New Zealand season for the Cambridge pair of Murray Baker and Andrew Forsman, and their 17th at black-type level.
Ambitious Winner made it a double for the day for the premiership-leading stable in the final race on the card, while Qiji Express also finished runner-up in the Listed John Turkington Forestry Castletown Stakes.
Tomelilla has now had 22 starts for seven wins, eight placings and more than $165,000 in prize-money.