Chris Johnson brings Savvy Coup home in the New Zealand Oaks.
The South Islanders have triumphed at Trentham again, with Savvy Coup winning the Gr. 1 Al Basti Equiworld New Zealand Oaks for her trainers Michael and Matthew Pitman, her owners the Bruford and Coupland families and her jockey Chris Johnson.
The Pitman stable had already collected a major Trentham prize this season, celebrating their first Group One as a training partnership with Enzo’s Lad in the Telegraph in January.
But while Enzo’s Lad went into that sprint feature as a 73-to-one outsider, the Riccarton duo found themselves in a different and high-pressure situation today with the $2.60 favourite for the prestigious $400,000 classic.
Savvy Coup had earned that mantle through an outstanding run of summer form, winning twice during the Riccarton carnival before placing at Trentham, winning the Gr. 3 Eulogy Stakes, placing in the Gr. 1 Levin Classic and the Karaka Million 3YO Classic, and finally topping off her Oaks preparation with a dominant Gr. 3 Lowland Stakes performance at Hastings.
The 2400 metres of today’s Oaks presented a new challenge, and with a strong early pace and the daughter of Savabeel over-racing down the back straight, her stamina would be put under intense scrutiny in the home straight.
Johnson presented Savvy Coup soon after rounding the home turn and she took over the lead from the front-running Swing Note.
The big challenge came from one of the other star staying fillies of the season, Contessa Vanessa, who surged through the inside with a determined bid. The pair drew clear of the rest of the field to fight out the finish, and Savvy Coup would not be denied.
She edged away to win by a length and a quarter, to the relief of Johnson, who was also a regular rider of Contessa Vanessa.
“I was lucky enough to be riding the two best fillies in the race, and fortunately I got on the right one,” he said.
The win was Johnson’s fifth in the Oaks, following Domino (1990), Tartan Tights (1995), Sawatdee (1997) and Tycoon Lil (1998).
“It’s just a pleasure to ride a horse as good as this for such great owners, and I’ve had a lot of support from the Pitman stable as well,” he said.
“She’s way above average. She got a bit fired up and pulled a wee bit, and she started to improve. I would have preferred to wait, but it got to the point where I couldn’t hold her much longer.
“To do what she’s done this year, she’s obviously very tough and very talented. It’s great. Group Ones are hard to win – especially at my age.”
Bought for $65,000 as a yearling at Karaka, Savvy Coup has had 12 starts for five wins, four placings and more than $444,000 in prize-money.
“She’s an incredible filly,” Matthew Pitman said. “All season, she’s been thereabouts against some of the best colts and geldings.
“The Brufords and the Couplands have been two of our biggest sets of supporters for years, so to win this Group One for them means a hell of a lot. Our team behind us works incredibly hard as well, so this is big for them too. It’s massive. It’s been an incredible season.
“We’ve been taking part in good races for a long time, but we really wanted to start winning them. We made a plan to target some nice young horses to buy, and this is the result of that.”
Savvy Coup will now be set for next month’s Gr. 1 Australian Oaks at Randwick. Sofia Rosa and Bonneval have won the Australian Oaks after finishing second (relegated from first) and first respectively in the New Zealand Oaks.
“Bloody oath, we’ll go to Sydney now,” Pitman said. “I don’t think she’ll need another run between now and the Oaks there. She’s very fit, and the way she won the Lowland, I think she’d handle going straight into it.
“Sofia Rosa and Bonneval both went into the Australian Oaks without another run and won it, so we’ll follow that same path.”
Milseain finished third in today's feature, followed by Caricature, Mark Two and Marcellina.
The Oaks result confirmed Dijon Bleu as the New Zealand Bloodstock Filly of the Year. The daughter of Burgundy was side-lined by an injury setback last month, but her imposing tally of 30 points proved to be enough.
The only filly in the field today with a chance of catching her was Contessa Vanessa, who gave it a tremendous shot but had to settle for second – both in the Oaks and in the Filly of the Year standings. She finished with 26.5 points.
Savvy Coup’s victory boosted her to 24 points and a clear third place on the table.