A year on from a breakthrough spring campaign that announced her arrival on the Group One stage, Mustang Valley (NZ) (Vanbrugh) did it again in the Gr.1 Arrowfield Stud Plate (1600m) at Hastings on Saturday.
The daughter of Vanbrugh began last season with a rating of 70, but a spectacular five-length romp on the opening day of the Hawke’s Bay Spring Carnival thrust her into the spotlight. In her next three starts, she won the Gr.3 Metric Mile (1600m), ran a strong-finishing second in the Arrowfield Stud Plate and romped home by five and a quarter lengths in the Gr.1 Livamol Classic (2040m).
Mustang Valley is coming into her own again at the same time 12 months later, having resumed with an eye-catching sixth in the Gr.2 Foxbridge Plate (1200m) before scoring an easy win over 1400m at New Plymouth on September 16.
Deteriorating track conditions extinguished the hopes of some Arrowfield Stud Plate contenders, and even prompted the scratchings of Legarto and La Crique, but they only strengthened Mustang Valley’s claims. By the time the gates opened at just after 4pm on Saturday afternoon, she had come right into red-hot favouritism at $2.30.
Ridden by Joe Doyle, Mustang Valley broke well from her midfield gate at the tricky Hastings 1600m start point. She slid forward and settled in fifth and well away from the rail.
Doyle released the brakes coming down the side of the track, and by the time the field rounded the home turn, Mustang Valley had swooped around the outside and taken the lead.
The 2021 winner Callsign Mav chased hard towards the inside, with 50-to-one longshot Malt Time producing a career-best performance to join in out wide. But Mustang Valley had their measure, driven to the line by Doyle and scoring by a length and a quarter from Malt Time. Callsign Mav finished another three-quarters of a length away in third.
“A good ride and a very good horse is a good combination,” trainer Andrew Forsman said. “With the track the way it is today, you come into the race knowing that you’ve got things in your favour, but you also know that you’re in a field of quality horses. You never take it for granted. There’s a lot of good horses behind her, and they’re there for a reason. Group One races are never easy to win, and we’re rapt to have got it done.”
Forsman will bring Mustang Valley back to Hastings on October 14 to defend her crown in the Livamol, and the TAB now rates her a $2.60 favourite.
“The Livamol is the plan,” Forsman said. “At a mile today, we expected her to be competitive at weight-for-age on rain-affected ground. But I think getting up to 2000m now will really suit her. Everything’s gone to plan so far in this campaign, so hopefully that continues.”
The win continued an outstanding start to the season for Irish jockey Joe Doyle, who rode three winners on Saturday and heads the New Zealand premiership with 30 wins.
The Arrowfield was the second Group One victory for Doyle, who partnered Pignan to win the Manawatu Sires’ Produce Stakes (1400m) in April.
“We were three wide halfway, but I was happy with where I was – they weren’t going crazy in front,” Doyle said. “She got going at the 600 and it was game over.
“It’s fantastic. I’m in a very privileged position. These are the races that you want to be riding in, and horses like her are the ones that you want to be riding. I’m so grateful to the connections for putting me on.”