Matamata trainer Wayne Hillis promised his good mate Noel Harris that a big race winning ride was coming his way before he retired from riding - and yesterday he delivered on his word.
Hillis, and his wife and training partner Vanessa, chucked Harris on their bonny mare Art Beat and the pair combined to claim the $100,000 Winter Cup at Riccarton in emphatic fashion.
One of the unluckiest runners this winter, Art Beat excelled on the long Riccarton straight, winding up stylishly down centre track, before holding off the late challenge of Innovation.
"Nothing has gone her way lately," Hillis said. “Each time something has happened, and she has been flying home late.
“We never really had this race on the radar so we didn't nominate her until two weeks ago. But I always knew the straight here would be more her go, she needs a bit of time to wind up."
Owned and bred by Jim Marks and Gary and Shirley Bluett, Art Beat has become a handy money-maker, winning nine of her 31 starts and more than $200,000.
Now with a Group III victory, her broodmare value is assured, but Hillis thinks her days on the track are far from over.
“I think she is getting better. She did such a good job early on in her career but this time in she seems to be a bit stronger. "
Hillis was also full of praise for Harris, who had Art Beat perched and ready to pounce.
“What can you say about him?" Hillis said of Harris.
“We have been good mates for a long time, and I promised him a big win before he chucked in the towel. It's pretty special to have him on board and it was a perfect ride - he suits this horse so well because of his patience."
At 56, the days of Harris producing perfect rides are surely coming to an end, but in the same week as the release of his new book, he showed he's still as good as ever, winning his second Winter Cup after Real Vision in 2002.
“That was a pretty impressive performance," Harris said.
“She relaxed underneath me so well. We did get a pretty nice trip into it but she still had plenty of work to do when we straightened."
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