Ladies First and Johnathan Parkes return victorious after a thrilling Auckland Cup finish.
History repeated itself in today’s $500,000 Barfoot & Thompson Auckland Cup, but in the most unlikely of circumstances.
In a thrilling home straight battle at the end of 3200 metres, Ladies First, Five To Midnight and Wildflower went head-to-head across the Ellerslie winning post and the only certainty was that Wildflower had finished third.
Locked together across the line, most thought that Five To Midnight had taken a narrow decision over the favourite Ladies First. In the grandstand the latter’s trainer Allan Sharrock turned to his partner Emma Davies cursing his luck, while rival trainer Lisa Latta was confident Five To Midnight had prevailed.
The final decision came down to judge John Craig’s call, however, and he declared Ladies First the winner by a nose, with a short neck to Wildflower and a long neck to fourth placegetter Alinko Prince narrowly shading Zacada.
The victory not only contradicted what the naked eye had suggested, but it was also incredible given the run that Ladies First had to endure. From a draw outside midfield she was forced three wide for the first half of the race and off a dawdling pace rider Johnathan Parkes opted to send Ladies First forward with a round to go.
Michael McNab made a similar move on Wildflower to track the pacemaker Diesel, and by the time the field was lining up for the run home, Wildflower had taken a narrow lead with Ladies First looming on her outside.
Soon afterwards Five To Midnight, who had enjoyed a far more economical under Opie Bosson had joined in for what amounted to a three-horse war and as thrilling a finish as any witnessed in the big two-miler.
“I turned to Emma up in the stand and said we’ve been done,” commented Sharrock, who had trained 2012 Cup winner Shez Sinsational. “By the time we got down to ground level we realised we had won – unbelievable given the run she had, she covered more like 3300 metres!”
Latta sportingly reflected on her thoughts on a win that wasn’t. “I’m not one to get confident in a tight finish, but this was one I really thought went our way,” she shrugged.
Parkes admitted afterwards that across the line his first thought was that Ladies First had taken a narrow win, but as he was pulling up the doubts began to set in.
“I thought maybe she had got it, then I wasn’t so sure,” he said. “It was great to hear the judge’s call.
“It wasn’t the prettiest race but after she got parked wide I had no option but to go forward. She’s just so tough, it was a huge performance.”
Humphrey O’Leary, co-owner with his wife Fiona of Ladies First, joined Sharrock as a two-time Auckland Cup winner. He and his brothers Dan, Michael and Shaune owned 2012 winner Who Shot Thebarman, and like that horse her destiny could well be in Australia.
“Humphrey entered her for the Sydney Cup but she’s been pulled out of that,” Sharrock said. “She’s earned a spell and after what we just saw I’d say we’re dead keen to get her to Melbourne in the spring.”
“It’s good to be back!” shouted O’Leary from the victory dais as he celebrated another great moment with a horse that now rates as one of the great bargains.
“We tried to buy her as a yearling at Karaka after she had been passed in, but didn’t go ahead when we were told the reserve was $30,000,” the Wanganui dairy farmer.
“Then we went back to Karaka for the May Mixed Sale when she was entered in the yearling section and this time we managed to buy her – and best of all she cost us only $8,000.”