Southern raid produces black-type gold for Sassy Merlot

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  • April 22, 2024
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Richard Edmunds, LOVERACING.NZ News Desk

An autumn trip to Canterbury has turned out to be career-defining for Matamata mare Sassy Merlot, who added a valuable black-type win to her record in Saturday’s Listed Daphne Bannan Memorial Great Easter Stakes (1400m) at Riccarton.

A placegetter in the Gr.2 Wellington Guineas (1400m), Gr.3 Desert Gold Stakes (1600m) and Gr.3 Rotorua Stakes (1400m) as a three-year-old, Sassy Merlot had struggled to find her best form through her four and five-year-old seasons.

An encouraging third at Hastings on February 28 led to co-trainer Pam Gerard sending her down south, where she finished a close fifth in a 1400m open handicap at Riccarton before winning in Rating 75 grade at Ashburton on April 4.

But on Saturday the southern venture paid off in the best way possible with a Listed victory and the lion’s share of the $80,000 stake.

“She’s been a tough horse all the way through,” Gerard said. “It’s just a little bit harder up north, especially when you get tracks that aren’t quite to suit. I’m really pleased now that we talked the owners into coming down.

“She’s come down here and had one-on-one attention over the last few weeks. Richie (Fallon) has just done the most amazing job and got her back into form.

“The Breeders’ Stakes (Gr.3, 1600m) was originally the target, but she just didn’t travel down all that well and we weren’t sure about the distance. She had a nice run over 1400m instead, then went to Ashburton and won there and boosted her confidence.

“When I saw her after I got off the plane this morning, I thought she’d just gone to another level.”

But even the most resurgent racehorses still need things to go to plan once the gates open, and rider Lisa Allpress had some nervous moments in the early part of Saturday’s race. A slow start made Sassy Merlot’s customary front-running tactics impossible, and she instead took up a position in midfield.

Allpress trucked up in Our Echo’s slipstream coming up to the home turn, then switched to the outside and asked Sassy Merlot to quicken. The response was immediate and Sassy Merlot swept to the lead with more than 300m remaining, then kept finding enough down the long Riccarton straight to turn back the late challenges of Third Decree and Millefiori and win by a length.

“That was a strong performance,” Allpress said. “My instructions went out the window a few seconds before we jumped. She was just standing there like a statue, and I knew she wasn’t going to jump well. There wasn’t much I could do about it at that stage.

“I was supposed to ride her forward, but I had no choice but to go back and get some cover, then try to find a nice back to follow into the race. It all worked out nicely in the end and she kicked really well.

“Her last-start win was phenomenal, and I knew she had that residual fitness on her side as well. When I asked her in the straight, she just shot out from underneath me. It was a good feeling.”

Sassy Merlot was bred by Advantageous Ventures Ltd, who offered her in Book 3 of Karaka 2020. The daughter of Burgundy was bought for $24,000 by Paul Moroney Bloodstock and Ballymore Stables, and her 28-start career has now produced five wins, seven placings and $181,145.


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