Sirani supporters travel a long way for victory

From the second the black helicopter landed at Ellerslie racecourse, you just knew it must be a winning tip.

Trouble is, no one seemed to know who the long blond-haired guy was in the pink shirt and dark shades who was chauffered to the stand in a golf buggy with his girlfriend.

That is, until after the Barfoot & Thompson 2400 – too late to back super impressive winner Sirani.

Turns out, David "Jumbo" Royds and Natasha Newman were just part of a big team of supporters there to cheer on the Matamata mare, owned by friends Belinda Scott, her brother Paul Dearden, and Hastings breeder Mick Ormond.

They'd come a long way, this cheer squad – many from England – and while Royds had his superyacht moored in the Viaduct harbour, his helicopter flit was from Kauri Cliffs where he'd had a quick round of golf that morning.

"They told me I had to be here because this mare was a dead cert," Royds said after Sirani came from near last on the turn to score, easily, by 1 1/2 lengths. "I even got the quinella. It's almost paid for the heliocopter trip."

It was a happy throng which packed the winners' circle bar afterwards, English accents predominating, as Scott thanked the club and its sponsors for making their Rugby World Cup trip so memorable.

"If the ABs don't win, well ... No, we need to make it a double, that would be the icing on the cake."

While Scott has lived in England for the last 30 years, and her husband Andrew came here supporting the English team, she is a Hastings girl at heart.

"I grew up next to Mick Ormond in Hawke's Bay.

"My dad James Dearden was a farmer, but he was mad keen on racing – he used to pore over thick stud books for hours – and his dream was to retire to Matamata to breed and sell horses.

"But dad died at the age of 47. I'm doing this for dad."

It was almost a given that Guy Sargent would train for Scott when she was talked into racing a horse by Ormond.

But Sargent, one of her closest friends, said he was under considerable pressure getting yesterday's result, knowing how far the cheer squad had come for the race.

"I told Guy it would be really good if she could race while we were in Auckland and he obliged us," Scott said.

It's been far from plain sailing for Sargent and he was understandably chuffed to have victory from only 10 starts.

The well-bred Galileo five-year-old had been plagued by injuries since scoring an impressive win at Ellerslie in January, 2010, he said.

The worst, a hock injury, came after she fell when a loose horse collided with her one day at the track.

"The hock became infected and she was out for a year," Sargent said. "But she's had lots of other little niggly things too."

Sargent now hopes Sirani will stay sound and fulfil Scott's ambitions to race in big events like the Melbourne Cup one day.

"She's a very good staying mare," Sargent said. "We'll try to get some black type going up the grades and hopefully get one of those two mile races in the autumn."

One thing's for sure, Scott and her party will need little convincing to make a return trip, rugby or no, judging by the number of $50 bills being flashed around afterwards.

Sunday Star Times