The decision to move the Gr.1 Gee & Hickton Funeral Directors Levin Classic (1600m) to March has worked wonders for Te Akau Racing, who dominated the race for the second year in a row at Trentham on Saturday – headed by an off-the-canvas victory by Romancing The Moon (El Roca x Underthemoonlight).
Staged in November until 2012, the Levin Classic then spent a decade in a midsummer slot as part of Trentham’s Wellington Cup Carnival in January. But it was shifted to March last year to provide a late-season target for three-year-olds who might be unsuited to the 2400m of the Derby or Oaks.
Last year’s inaugural running of the autumn Levin Classic was a tour de force by Te Akau Racing, with former trainer Jamie Richards saddling Imperatriz, On The Bubbles, I Wish I Win and Mohawk Brave for a clean sweep of the first four placings.
Richards has since relocated to Hong Kong and relinquished his Te Akau role, which has been taken over by another multiple premiership winner in Mark Walker. But the more things change, the more they stay the same.
Walker’s two starters in this year’s Levin Classic were Romancing The Moon and Skew Wiff, and they stood tall among a well-credentialled field to finish first and second.
Romancing The Moon used up plenty of petrol in the early stages of the race, sliding forward to trail a strong pace set by the front-running Alfriston.
Left all alone out in front when Alfriston tired at the top of the straight, Romancing The Moon was soon tackled and clearly headed by her stablemate Skew Wiff.
Romancing The Moon looked beaten but somehow lifted again, clawing back level with Skew Wiff and then edging ahead through the final stages to score by a length and a half.
“This is a big thrill,” Te Akau’s racing manager Reece Trumper said. “The boss (David Ellis) has done it again, and I can’t thank him enough.
“David Ellis is one of the best buyers in the world, if not the best. He’s incredible. Full credit to him and Karyn for syndicating these horses and building up such a great client base. Without them, and the great job that Mark does training these fillies, we wouldn’t be here.”
Romancing The Moon is by Westbury Stud stallion El Roca, who also sired the 2020 Levin Classic winner Travelling Light. The dam of this year’s Classic heroine is Underthemoonlight, who herself won the Gr.2 Foxbridge Plate (1200m) and was placed at Group One level.
Bought by Ellis for $50,000 from Westbury Stud’s draft at Karaka 2021, Romancing The Moon has now had 11 starts for four wins, four placings and $327,695 in stakes.
Romancing The Moon proved herself in the spring with two stakes placings, including a second in the Gr.3 Soliloquy Stakes (1400m) – splitting the star fillies Legarto and Prowess.
She later ran fourth in the Gr.1 New Zealand 1000 Guineas (1600m) and second in the Listed Dunedin Guineas (1500m) before a confidence-boosting win by five and a half lengths in the Listed NZB Insurance Stakes (1400m) on March 4.
Having remained in the South Island after that last-start success at Wingatui, Romancing The Moon crossed the Cook Strait on a ferry only two days before Saturday’s Group One triumph.
“When the rain came yesterday, we became a bit more confident,” Trumper said. “We always knew that the El Rocas go well on rain-affected ground.
“We thought there wouldn’t be too much speed in the race and she’d be able to land thereabouts, which she did. But they did go quite hard, and I thought she might stop in the straight. Fair play to her, she really toughed it out and it was a big effort.
“Skew Wiff is a lovely animal too, and we’re very proud to be training horses like her for Waikato Stud. Going from 1200m to the mile might just have taken its toll on her late, but she’s certainly a class filly, and the Group One placing looks good on her pedigree.
“They’ve both had big preparations, so we’ll look after them now and I’m sure they’ll make lovely four-year-olds.”
Romancing The Moon became the second Group One winner for jockey Kozzi Asano, whose first one came over the same course and distance in January – riding He’s A Doozy in the Thorndon Mile.
“I just rode my first Group One winner here in the Thorndon Mile, and I didn’t think I was going to get another one like this today,” he said. “I really appreciate the opportunity and all the crowd, sponsors and owners here on a big day.
“This filly handled 1600m well today and handled the pressure after doing some work early. It was a brave effort and I think she has a bright future ahead of her.”
In an all-filly trifecta, the third placegetter in Saturday’s Levin Classic was the Stephen Marsh-trained Luella Cristina. It was only the fourth career start for the blue-blooded filly, who is by Snitzel out of multiple Group One winner Lucia Valentina. – NZ Racing Desk.