High-class mare Levante broke through for a deserved Group One victory in a heart-stopping finish to Saturday’s JR & N Berkett Telegraph (1200m) at Trentham.
The five-year-old daughter of Proisir went into the time-honoured sprint as an eight-race winner from 13 starts, including the Gr.2 Westbury Classic (1400m) and two editions of the Listed Counties Bowl (1100m).
But a Group One victory had eluded the Ken and Bev Kelso-trained mare, who had previously finished second, third, fourth and fifth at the elite level.
Clashes with high-class Te Akau Racing mares had previously proven to be a Group One stumbling block, beaten by Avantage in three meetings at the elite level, and she was a last-start second to Entriviere in the Gr.1 Railway Stakes (1200m) on New Year’s Day.
It was widely expected to be more of the same on Saturday with Entriviere an overpowering $1.60 favourite, but this time Levante turned the tables.
Ridden by Ryan Elliot, Levante was a world away from her old habit of costly tardiness at the start. This time she broke sharply from gate five and took up a prominent position on the heels of the front-running Ocean Point and Tavi Mac.
Levante went for gold at the top of the straight, and with Entriviere getting no closer than fifth after being last to straighten for home, it began to look like this might be Levante’s day.
But another Matamata mare had other ideas. Roch ‘N’ Horse burst out of the pack and drew up alongside Levante, the lead changing with every stride through the last 50m as the pair fought out a pulsating finish. They hit the line locked together, with more than two lengths back to the third-placed Mascarpone.
After an anxious wait, there was a roar from the Trentham crowd as Levante was declared a deserving Group One winner. The head-turning time for the 1200m of 1:06.18 is being claimed by the Wellington Racing Club as an unofficial world record.
“That wasn’t too good for the heart,” said Ken Kelso. “But this is a huge result. She’s a wonderful mare with such a great temperament and will to win. She’s an absolute dream to train.
“I was a little bit surprised at how close she was in the running, but to her credit she stuck at it down the straight. I’m very pleased for the owners.
“Making this even more remarkable is the fact that this mare has had two colic surgeries. It’s taken a lot of hard work and a real team effort by a lot of our staff to get to this point.”
Elliot has formed a remarkable partnership with Levante, recording six wins and two placings from eight rides on the star mare.
“She’s been jumping away a bit better in this preparation, and today she really sprung out of the gates and put herself up there,” Elliot said.
“We probably got to the front a little bit too soon in the straight, but once the other horse came up beside her, she lifted.”
Levante is raced by a syndicate that includes Ancroft Stud’s Philip Brown and his wife Catherine, along with former Waikato Racing Club Chief Executive Tony Enting and his wife Mary.
“What a thrill,” Brown said. “I think Levante thoroughly deserved to get that Group One monkey off her back today, and it was a marvellous performance. I think there were no losers in this race – it was a titanic finish between those two horses, and it just happened to be our day today.”
Brown also paid tribute to syndicate member Michael Stedman, a respected bloodstock agent who passed away in August at the age of 73.
Brown put the ownership syndicate together for Levante after he had foaled her down for her breeder Scott Williams, who is also Brown’s accountant.
Levante becomes the first Group One winner for Rich Hill Stud stallion Proisir, with the exciting Choisir stallion the sire of seven stakes winners to date. – NZ Racing Des