Harris happy he won't have to waste for Marea Alta in Taumarunui Cup
Noel Harris did himself a favour at Tauranga on Saturday.
The veteran jockey left for a week-long holiday in Rarotonga yesterday with his next pressing riding commitment teaming up with Marea Alta in the Listed $80,000 Taumarunui Cup (2100m) at Te Rapa on July 28.
Harris, 57, had to lose 3kg to ride the Alexander Fieldes-trained Marea Alta in last year's Taumarunui Cup at 53kg, but after guiding the mare to a remarkable win in Saturday's Listed Kiwifruit Cup (2100m) at Tauranga, he can afford to enjoy himself in Rarotonga without having to worry about watching his weight.
"I said to ARA [Fieldes] after Marea Alta won the Foxton Cup `it's been pissing me off having to waste to ride her on the minimum','' Harris said.
"She's always been worth wasting for - I took 3kg off to ride her in the Taumarunui Cup last year.
"When I heard what weight she was going to get [for the Kiwifruit Cup - 54kg] I was giggling. She was beautifully weighted and ARA has done a good job with her.''
Handicapper Dean Nowell hadn't assessed how many rating points Marea Alta would rise from her Kiwifruit Cup win when contacted yesterday afternoon - he said that would be updated by this morning - but the upshot is that the Montjeu six-year-old mare will be much closer to the top of the handicap than the bottom for the Taumarunui Cup.
Her luxury weight counted for plenty in Saturday's feature, though at the halfway stage it looked as though nothing could help her.
After settling in the last three, Marea Alta seemed to be battling and Harris was forced to twice use the whip even before the last 600m.
"With 1200m to travel I said to Kara [Oulaghan], my partner, `we're going to run last','' Fieldes said afterwards.
"I know her pretty well and I thought she was gone-burgers. She just wasn't travelling. She was off the bit, hanging, detesting the [heavy] ground. She was flat, doing nothing.
"But she's tough and she's put in like I was hoping she would. It was a terrific win. She's just a good horse.''
Harris had the same fears.
"We were 1000 to one. She was hanging in and I thought `aw, mate'. I thought I was going to have to pull her up,'' Harris said.
"I thought I'd get her out into the better track and see what happens. I got in behind Taking The Mickey and she started lifting. She just showed her class up the straight.
"I was just relieved to see her pick up underneath me. It was hard work out there but full honours to Marea Alta. When you win on horses like this it makes you think you are 18 again.''
An emotional Fieldes - Harris' self-confessed biggest fan - had plenty of praise for his jockey, who landed his first stakes win of the season in the race.
"I know the ability of the rider. He might be 57 years young but he's the man,'' Fieldes said.
"For the last 30 years Noel has ridden a stakes winner [each season] and he was running out of time, but this was it for him today. He just went out there and did what I expected him to do.''
Saturday's win was Marea Alta's seventh from 27 starts and set her up for a possible fitting finale of a consecutive Taumarunui Cup in what could be her final start for owners Mark and Pam Oulaghan.
"At this stage that will be her next start and she'll probably go to stud then,'' Fieldes said.
Topweight Indikator battled gamely for second after hitting the lead inside the last 300m, only to be gobbled up by Marea Alta wider on the track, that mare drawing clear to score by 2 1/4 lengths.
The pacemaking Carbonado stuck on well for third, 5 1/4 lengths back, with Cavestani and Beau Dane the next pair home.
Fieldes yesterday said Marea Alta had come through the race well and eaten a full feed when she arrived home in Whanganui on Saturday night, but he wouldn't be altering plans to go into the Taumarunui Cup without another run.
"With 99 out of 100 horses, if you are running in a middle distance race in five weeks' time, you'd work them up and probably give them a leadup race - you'd be cruel to be kind,'' he said.
"But with her you've just got to back yourself to have her right. I overcooked her in the four weeks between the City Of Auckland Cup to the Wellington Cup just by giving her a 600m gallop on the Wednesday before the race.
"That was enough to stop her showing her usual ping. She's a lightly-framed Montjeu mare and I've just got to back off her and back myself to have her right.''
- © Fairfax NZ News