Cambridge trainer Lee Somervell has his sights set on his first Gr I win with Fleur de Lune at Hastings after his star mare claimed her biggest win in Saturday's Gr III Foxbridge Plate at Te Rapa.
But Somervell isn't just setting his target on the Gr I $200,000 Makfi Challenge Stakes (1400m) on September 1, he has his eye on all three legs of the Hastings triple crown, the pipe-dream to secure an unprecedented sweep of the weight-for-age series.
‘‘Wouldn't it be huge. She’ll be pretty competitive anyway. If she stays sound, I would love to have a go at all three,’’ Somervell said.
‘‘We’ll take them one at a time and it would be great to win any one of them.’’
Fleur de Lune finished second to Fritzy Boy in last year's Foxbridge Plate (1200m) before finishing third to Mufhasa and Jimmy Choux in the Makfi Stakes.
She was able to turn the tables on Fritzy Boy in Saturday's $70,000 weight-for-age feature and Somervell has predicted further improvement for the Makfi Stakes, where she will attempt to turn the tables on Mufhasa.
TAB bookmakers reacted to the Stravinsky mare's Foxbridge win by trimming her fixed-odds quote for the Makfi from $14 to $10, though Mufhasa remains the favourite at $3.50, ahead of Ocean Park at $6, Guiseppina at $7 and He's Remarkable at $8.
Somervell said leading into the race that his main focus was having Fleur de Lune at her peak for the Hastings triple crown series and he knew there was improvement in her out of Saturday's race, estimating he had her about 80 per cent fit for the Foxbridge.
‘‘She might have been 85 per cent the way it worked out,’’ he joked afterwards.
‘‘She is terrific, I tell you. I'm a little emotional because she got heaps of improvement and for her to do that today...
‘‘It was a lovely ride from Jason [Jago]. It worked out copybook. Gee, she's a good little girl. I've always said as a five-year-old she's going to be a lovely mare and that augurs well for later on. Let's keep our fingers crossed. Maybe she'll turn it around this season.’’
Fleur de Lune has so often been the bridesmaid in big races.
She was third in last year's Gr I New Zealand Thoroughbred Breeders' Stakes (1600m), third in the Makfi, a close second in this year's New Zealand Thoroughbred Breeders' Stakes and second in the Gr I Easter Handicap (1600m).
‘‘She’s more professional now. That was only her 18th start and she’s been up against the best ones in most of her races,’’ Somervell said yesterday.
‘‘Nothing fazes her and now she’s a five-year-old she’s come back stronger and she showed that yesterday. She’s 30 kilos heavier than this time last year. She’s showing real determination and she went to the line so strongly yesterday.
‘‘Ten out of 10 for courage and gameness because she's only 15.2 hands. To have a horse like her in the stable is just huge.’’
Somervell, who paid credit to stable foreman Wendy McGowan for her role in the victory, reported that Fleur de Lune had pulled up in first-class order yesterday, quelling his fears that because she was heavier a hard first-up run might take its toll.
Fleur de Lune had to undergo two separate operations as an early three-year-old to remove bone chips from both her front knees and Somervell has been mindful of tailoring a training programme around gradually getting her to full fitness to ensure her soundness.
The Foxbridge Plate went according to script for Fleur de Lune with rider Jago able to get her into second spot early outside the pacemaking Sweet Suitor before taking a one-out trail behind Fritzy Boy when he moved forward to sit outside the leader.
He peeled three wide in straight and quickly put his rivals to the sword, though Fritzy Boy rallied gamely for second half a length back.
Xanadu produced one of the runs of the race, coming from back in the field for third, 1 3/4 lengths further back, with Sweet Suitor fighting on for fourth 1 1/4 lengths away.
‘‘She travelled up super. She felt like she had plenty still to give and I think she will progress from here,’’ Jago said afterwards.
Somervell, whose previous best wins were the Listed Grosvenor Plate and Listed Kiwifruit Cup with Hampton’s Choice and a class one win for Saci over Bonecrusher at Ellerslie, said he believed Fleur de Lune was primed to step up to a middle distance this preparation.
‘‘I've always reckoned she would go 2000m. That's why I nominated her for the Cox Plate last year and I wasn't joking about going there.
‘‘But Ada [Parnwell] won't travel now so we won't be going across there. We'll stay here and hopefully pick some of those plums at Hastings.’’
Parnwell bred Fleur de Lune and races her in partnership with Hastings couple John and Colleen Duncan.
The trio also race Kapsboy out of Somervell’s stable and the Listed Ryder Stakes placegetter could well be Gr II Hawke’s Bay Guineas-bound along with stablemate and Ryder Stakes runner-up Addictive Habit.
Wairarapa trainer Alby MacGregor said Fritzy Boy would be more competitive up to the 1400m of the Makfi Challenge Stakes.
‘‘He did his best and that's all we can ask for. He needed the run before he went to Hastings and that will clean him up nicely.’’
Matamata trainer Ken Kelso was delighted with Xanadu's effort but was worried it might not have been enough to clinch her a start in the Makfi Stakes with the changes to the order of entry criteria for this year's race.
Under last year's conditions, Xanadu would have been as high as fifth on the order of entry, but as it stands she is in danger of missing a start at 21st on the order of entry.
Hamilton trainer Graeme Rogerson lamented Jonathan Riddell's tactics of eye-balling Sweet Suitor with Fritzy Boy, which he believed cost his charge a closer finishing position.
He said Sweet Suitor would now go to the $25,000 1200m open handicap at Tauranga on September 1, when he was likely to engage a claiming apprentice.
Matamata trainer Karen Fursdon said she would press forward to the Makfi Stakes with fifth-placed Baby Guinness, while Auckland trainer Stephen McKee said he would also press on to the same race with seventh-placed Special Days.
Master Power and Shez Sinsational are set to clash in the 1400m open handicap at Ellerslie on September 8.
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