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Blandford pair set to shine at Sha Tin

Criterion during trackwork at Sha Tin
Criterion during trackwork at Sha Tin

Graham Bax is pinching himself ahead of Sunday's Hong Kong International races at Sha Tin.

The studmaster at Matamata's Blandford Lodge can hardly believe that two runners in the blue riband Gr.1 Hong Kong Cup were nurtured on his farm.

Many of the world's most powerful breeding establishments aren't represented at all, so for Blandford to have prize graduates Criterion and Lucia Valentina representing the farm at such a prestigious international meeting is a source of immense pride for Bax.

"It's fantastic; outstanding," he said.

"It's hard to believe really, but we're there and it's exciting. Little old Blandford, we don't breed a hell of a lot of horses here. We've got about 50 broodmares so to get two horses running at the international meeting is a pretty big achievement for us."

Bax and his wife Helen-Gaye bred Savabeel five-year-old mare Lucia Valentina out of their Montjeu mare Staryn Glenn.

She is raced by Wellington businessman Lib Petagna, who bought the mare through Wairarapa bloodstock agent Bruce Perry for $60,000 at the 2012 Karaka yearling sales.





Petagna has since bought into Blandford Lodge, becoming a partner in the stud farm, having bought out previous co-owner Sir Owen Glenn, who bred and races Criterion, a rival for Lucia Valentina in the $NZ4.88 million Hong Kong Cup (2000m).

Bax is leaning slightly toward the David Hayes-trained Criterion as the better chance of the two Blandford graduates in the Cup.

"Criterion has been outstanding right through," he said.

"He's travelled all over the world and raced well. He's that type of horse that loves the travel and he just keeps performing well at the top level. I think he'll be a big chance in that race.

"Lucia Valentina just hadn't been letting go like we know she can, but she's just coming to it now. Her win in the Matriarch Stakes at Flemington was top-class and it showed she was in the right form to head to Hong Kong.

"She probably needs luck on her side to foot it with those horses, but she's settled in well up there and [trainer] Kris Lees is very happy with her."

Bax has just returned from an international trip and with the annual Karaka yearling sales less than two months away, he felt he couldn't justify a trip to Hong Kong to watch his star Blandford pair compete this weekend.

"I would have loved to have been there, but I've only just returned from six weeks overseas and with the yearling sales coming up, I really should start to knuckle down and look like I'm doing some work at home," he said.

Bax is hoping to capitalise on the hype of the Hong Kong meeting at next month's premier session of the Karaka yearling sales when he presents two close relatives of Lucia Valentina - Lot 100, a Rock 'n' Pop colt out of Group One performer Mighty Solomon's dam Tarzie, and Lot 269, a Sepoy filly out of Dulcine'e.

"Staryn Glenn has an Exceed And Excel yearling filly which we have kept and will race and we're racing an older half-sister, Mackenzie Kate, and she ran second at Avondale last week at her first start so we're quite excited about her too," Bax said.

Blandford Lodge is well known for its success on the international stage, with former Singapore champion Better Than Ever one of its star graduates, while the past 12 months have produced the farm's best results yet through Group One wins to Criterion, Lucia Valentina and Champagne Stakes winner Pasadena Girl.

The Blandford pair aren't the only Kiwi-breds in the international races at Sha Tin on Sunday - the Chris Waller-trained dual Group One winner Preferment, bred by Sir Patrick and Justine, Lady Hogan, Mike and Helen Moran and Leo and Barbara Anselmi, is slated to contest the Gr.1 Hong Kong International Vase (2400m). - NZ Racing Desk