The third time was the charm for Dragon Queen at Ellerslie’s Karaka Million twilight meeting on Saturday, landing a career-best victory in the Gr.2 Westbury Classic (1400m).
Since her purchase for $50,000 by the New Zealand Chinese Jockey Club and Paul Moroney Bloodstock at Karaka in 2019, the daughter of Sweynesse has spent much of her 18-start career in stakes grade. That includes a close fifth in the Karaka Million 2YO (1200m) in 2020, followed by a sixth in last year’s Karaka Million 3YO Classic (1600m).
Dragon Queen returned to Karaka Million night for the third year in a row on Saturday, and this time she came out on top.
Ridden by Taiki Yanagida, the four-year-old settled in sixth place before dashing out of the pack as the field fanned wide across the track in the straight. In-form rival Faithful Feat came through on her inside and joined her in a head-bobbing duel to the line, but Dragon Queen edged her out by a nose in an $18.70 upset.
It was a first black-type success for Yanagida, who had recorded 14 second or third placings from his 56 previous rides in stakes races.
“I’ve never won a black-type race before today, but Pam and the owners gave me this great opportunity tonight and I’m so grateful,” he said. “She always hits the line strongly but sometimes gets there a bit too soon. I tried to time it right this time, and I knew I’d got there on the line.”
Dragon Queen has now won two of her 18 starts, with another eight placings including a last-start third in the Gr.2 Rich Hill Mile (1600m) and a third in last year’s Gr.3 Sunline Vase (2100m). She has also run fourth in the Gr.2 Auckland Guineas (1600m) and seventh in another three Group races including the Gr.1 New Zealand Oaks (2400m).
For trainers Mike Moroney and Pam Gerard, Saturday’s narrow win was not only a deserved triumph for Dragon Queen, but also a welcome turnaround after stablemate Roch ‘N’ Horse came up short by the same margin against Levante in last Saturday’s Gr.1 Telegraph (1200m).
“These finishes always seem to go against us lately,” Gerard said. “But this is a great result. We’ve been trying at this meeting for three years and we’ve finally done it. She’s one of my absolute favourite mares in the stable – she’s just got such a great nature.
“She was only a one-win horse, but she’s always run well in good races like this. She’s been a bit unlucky and probably should have been Group One-placed already.
“She’s really matured and has come back in outstanding order this season. She’s just getting better and better, and she really deserved this.
“It’s also great for Taiki, who has formed a fantastic association with this horse. I know he had the prospect of a good book of rides down at Trentham today, but he wanted to stay here to ride her, and I’m so pleased it worked out for him.”
Brighthill Farm will offer a Per Incanto half-sister to Dragon Queen at Karaka 2022 in March, set to go through the ring as Lot 290 in the Book 1 session. – NZ Racing Desk.