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Magic Belle flies the family flag for John Ralph

Photo:  NZTM website
Photo: NZTM website

It was a pretty proud moment for Waikato NZTBA branch member John Ralph when his three-year-old filly Magic Belle (Keeper[AUS]-Sadie Belle) won the listed Tauranga Classic, and not just because he owns and bred the horse, but because it was trained by his younger son Stephen.

"It's a proud moment to have, to see your kids do well. I tried to dissuade him from becoming a trainer so it's good to see him do well. After all the hugging and handshaking I told him all he needs now is a group one winner and he will be really accepted," joked Ralph "but it was a great thrill for him."

Ralph has always hoped his love of horses and his involvement with them would follow through to his children and grandchildren and now it looks like it has.

"When my wife Trixie died in 1971 the three children were only seven, eight and 10, with Stephen being the youngest. I have always made sure I kept her memory alive for the kids by owning everything in my name and in her estate. Now young Dylan, Stephen's son is also working with horses in Nigel Tiley's stable and he keeps asking me what I am doing with all my mares and young stock."

Magic Belle was having only her 11th start when she recorded her impressive win in the Tauranga Classic, making the most of her weight advantage - as a three-year-old she only carried 55.5 kilograms in the weight-for-age fillies event – she scampered to the front for an early lead in the 1400 metre event and fought on well when challenged in the straight.

She went into the race after winning seven days earlier at Ellerslie with similar tactics when racing out of her class in rating 85 company. She has now won four races and became Keeper's 25th stakes winner when she won the Tauranga Classic, and his fifth individual stakes winner in New Zealand this season.

Magic Belle is the third foal of Sadie Belle (Exploding Prospect[USA]) - herself a winner of five races. Her first foal, Peppermint, also by Keeper, has won four races in Hong Kong. Her fourth foal is a rising two-year-old by Lucky Unicorn (AUS) which the Ralph's will race.

"Sadie Belle won five races in the wet. She was by Exploding Prospect and they loved the wet, and Keepers love the wet as well so any wonder Magic Belle loves the wet. I raced Keeper's first winner and stakes winner in Keep The Message and I have been a fan of him ever since. I have been going to Sir Patrick Hogan's stallions on and off for years," he added.

Sadie Belle is out of Paradise Belle (Te Puninga), the winner of the listed Whangarei RC Thoroughbred Breeders' Stakes at two. This is of course the famous Belle family descending from Belle of Ascot, the dam of Melody Belle, and a full sister to the champion filly Star Belle.

"In the early 80's I bought a package of mares that included Roberta Belle (Gigantic [GB] – Belle of Ascot) and her daughter Diana Belle (Oncidium [GB]). I bred Shannon Belle (Balmerino) out of Diana Belle and she was a stakes winner in Australia and left the group one winner Sharscay (Marscay[AUS]). A little later in the 80's I was at a sale and bought Rickshaw, a Taipan II(USA) mare out of Chariot Belle (Battle Waggon [GB]- Belle of Ascot).

"By this stage I was standing Te Puninga (Aythorpe[IRE] – Heaven Bless) at stud. During the 80's I bought and raced a few horses including Manchu who won eight races including the listed Wellington Handicap and was group one placed three times and Te Puninga who won three juvenile races in Australia including the group three Pago Pago Stakes. I trained both those horses later in their careers. Te Puninga was named after the area where we were dairy farming at the time.

"Anyway back to Magic Belle, I sent Rickshaw to Te Puninga and we got Paradise Belle and she is the grandam of Magic Belle."

It was through another mating with Te Puninga that eventually propelled the Ralph name into breeding and racing notoriety.

"Stephen had bought Miss Morrinsville (Desperate Dee [GB]- Penny Peel) but was going share- milking so I bought her off him and sent her to Te Puninga – her first foal for us was Miss Piako Post and she was named after the local paper. She won a couple of races, before going to stud. The next foal was by Gold and Ivory (USA) and was named after another local rag, a two page weekly called The Message, and that was the start of the "message" dynasty."

The Message, who was trained by Ralph, won 12 races including the group one Kelt Capital Stakes and the New Zealand Stakes at Ellerslie. He also won the Foxbridge Plate twice. His half-brother Keep The Message (Keeper [AUS]) won the listed Ryder Stakes and was placed in the group three Cambridge Breeders' Stakes and listed Wanganui Guineas.

Miss Morrinsville left five other winners, four of whom had the Message in their name and the fifth was sold as a yearling and called Crossword (Cape Cross [IRE]) and won three races and was placed in the listed Thoroughbred Breeders' Stakes.

Ralph maintains that he is getting close to having had 100 winners mainly from these two families, and this season he has had eight including Magic Belle (4 wins) It's A Message (Istadaad[USA] – Sky Message) (3 wins) and Get The Message (Viking Ruler[AUS] –Sky Message) and One Cool Message (One Cool Cat[USA]-Special Message) with one each.

"Since I gave up training at the start of the season I have had a great year. Rogie (Graeme Rogerson) has a half share in It's A Message and is doing a great job with him, and Stephen trains One Cool Message, the latest up-and-coming runner from that family. She has had four starts for a win and two seconds.

"I didn't breed any of my mares last year. I still have quite a few - Sadie Belle, Regal Message, Sky Message and Special Message - but I guess I might be tempted this year, now that a couple of the fillies have come up. I have still got plenty of youngsters coming through for Stephen to train and I am still having a lot of fun."


- Michelle Saba