Trainer Lance Noble didn't have to think twice when he declared Annie Higgins' gutsy win in yesterday's $100,000 Waikato Times Gold Cup was all thanks to the patience of her owner, Marie Leicester.
And Noble said the five-year-old, who photo-finished Bettor Together with a brave last 200 metres, was now poised to repay her owner, as she was just hitting her prime with all the summer cups ahead of her.
"I'm so thrilled for Marie," Noble said. "She's such a wonderful owner. She's been so patient and allowed me to do what I wanted." Noble revealed Marie Higgins had been injured during the running of the New Zealand Oaks two years ago and took all of 12 months to come right.
"She was sideswiped at the top of the straight and her whole back end turned. We did lots of tests, including scintigraphy, but we could never pinpoint the problem. It might have been a fractured pelvis but we couldn't isolate it and it worried her for most of her four-year- old year."
Noble said only a lot of work and patience by his whole team saw the mare regain her best, yesterday's win her fifth in just 19 starts.
"She's in all the cups and we'll just take them one at a time." In presenting the trophy to Leicester, Waikato Racing Club chairman Dave Smith said it was a fitting result, given all that Leicester's parents James and Annie Sarten had put into the club.
Leicester said she could think of nothing better than to come back to the Waikato, where she grew up, and win the cup.
"This horse is special to me because she's named after my late mother's maiden name. And she's the first horse out of the family that hasn't had Belle in the name."
The Belle family is one of the best known and best performed in the Stud Book, and dates back to 1937 when James Sarten was given a mare to breed from, Belle Star, as thanks for years of looking after mares for her owner.
At the second attempt the mare produced Belle Fox, who started a line that has produced hundreds of winners.
Leicester recalls that before her dad died in 1981 they calculated that sons and daughters of just one of her progeny, Belle Time, had won 91 races.
Leicester started breeding and racing horses on her own account in 1970.
"Dad gave me my first mare who I put to Sovereign Edition and got Sovereign Rose.
"Dad paid the bills until I could afford to take them over." Sovereign Rose won twice at two, but a virus ended her career and she became a broodmare, producing among others seven-race winner Jinsky Rose. Annie Higgins is a grand-daughter of Tri Belle, who won the inaugural Sir Tristram Fillies' Classic at Te Rapa in 1986.
Leicester, who routinely breeds from up to a dozen mares a year, lost two valuable Zabeel mares this year.
"ENJOY THE RIDE. You'll never race another as good in your lifetime."
Trainer Allan Sharrock's advice to the owners of Shez Sinsational came after the mare came with a paralysing rails burst to claim Diademe and Floria in yesterday's $85,000 Cal Isuzu Stakes.
"She's a phenomenal mare," Sharrock said. "Who said the mile was a worry - and there was no speed in the race." But time is running out for the succession of owners who shook Sharrock's hand afterwards. The five couples, which include Sharrock's father Bob, have only until the end of the season to enjoy the thrills, when the lease on her runs out.
What happens to her then is anyone's guess, says Sharrock, as she is involved in a bankruptcy ownership dispute.
"Maybe I'll get the chance to keep training her after that but at the moment we're looking to finish her career in Brisbane."
Incredibly, Sharrock says, Shez Sinsational was still very portly yesterday and has another five per cent improvement for her main target, the Zabeel Classic at Ellerslie on Boxing Day.
"She put on 35kg after her last run. I even brought her up here to get her joints done by the vet this week to try to get the weight off her."
Sharrock says it is very unlikely that Shez Sinsational will be asked to run in the Auckland Cup in March.
"She'd have 59.5 to 60kg and that would break her heart. Last year we bottomed her by running over two miles." Instead, Shez Sinsational is likely to run in the weight-for-age 2000-metre feature a week later, before signing off with a couple of races in Brisbane.
The five-year-old Ekraar mare took her stake earnings to more than $1.36 million yesterday, her 12th win from 29 starts one of her most impressive.
Tackling highly credentialled milers like Guiseppina, many expected she would struggle to match their speed.
But the determination she showed for high-flying Opie Bosson to come from second last in the running was a rare sight.
Guiseppina ran fifth, 2.3 lengths away, only battling home in the run home, her trademark sprint nowhere to be seen.
CATALONIA'S STRENGTH, the very attribute which saw him power away from his rivals in yesterday's Wentwood Grange Stakes, could be his undoing, as trainer Jason Bridgman treads softly softly towards the Karaka Million in late January.
That's because the much-hyped colt, who made up for his debut defeat at Ellerslie in October, is just so much stronger than the usual precocious two- year-old.
"He's a big horse, who's just that much heavier than the others, and my only reservation is how good will his legs stay.
"He pulled up a little bit off after Ellerslie.
"He's never had a day unsound but we'll just have to make sure we do what's right for him to get him to the Karaka Million in the right shape.
"The tracks are at their firmest in January and if need be we could go straight into the Million from here.
"It's been nearly two months in between races today.
"But so long as he comes through this race well the ideal would be to have one more run in the Eclipse (January 1)."
Bridgman says he liked the way Catalonia really put his rivals away in the last 100 metres, his superior strength coming into play.
"He's always been a naturally talented two-year-old, but he'll learn a lot from that.
Rider Matt Cameron is looking forward to those, declaring the colt had plenty of improvement in him.
"He was chopping and changing legs, but that's just his greenness."
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