Star Kiwi filly Legarto's shot at Guineas history
The Australian Guineas boasts a storied history with a who's who of legendary winners, but are we about to witness a NZ horse win the race for the first time with Legarto?
Mahogany and Apache Cat, both eight-time Group 1 winners, are its most decorated champions, but it is perhaps most famous for being the lone Group 1 win for legendary sire Zabeel.
His win played no small part in its reputation as a stallion-making race with Flying Spur, Pins, Reset, Al Maher and Shamus Award among the colts who have used it as a springboard to stud success.
But the Guineas is not just the domain of the boys. It was for a long time after Sydney champion Triscay won the 1991 edition, but Miss Finland’s success in 2007 spawned a run that has seen Shamrocker, Mosheen and Mystic Journey win since.
What, or who, the Australian Guineas has escaped, though, are the New Zealanders.
The Kiwis are yet to upstage the Aussies in the race that was first run as a Group 3 event in 1986 but was upgraded to a Group 1 the following year.
Legarto will be out to rectify that when she represents not only trainers Ken and Bev Kelso, but all of New Zealand in Saturday’s 1600-metre $1 million event, in which she will be ridden by now Melbourne-based Kiwi, Michael Dee.
The daughter of Proisir has won five of her six starts, including the Group 1 NZ 1000 Guineas, with her only defeat coming at her most recent appearance in the Karaka 3YO Classic when she didn’t have the best of luck.
Ken Kelso concedes his star filly is entering the ‘unknown’, but he is happy to give her her shot at history.
“It’s a bit of the unknown, you’re going over there taking on their very best and until you’ve been there you don’t really know how you stack up, but we're happy to give it a crack."
“She’s got her Group 1 here, we don’t really need to have a go at another Group 1 here, so we’ll have a crack and see if we can enhance her value by getting some Black-Type in Australia.”
It’s been easier said than done for the Kiwis that have contested the Guineas in the past.
New Zealand’s best results are trips to the runner-up stall with My Eagle Eye (1991), O’Reilly (1997), Zonda (1998) and Darci Brahma (2006).
Darci Brahma is one of nine New Zealand-trained three-year-olds to contest the Guineas since it reverted back to 1600m from the 2000m event it was between 1998 and 2000 and one of only two to place.
The year after Darci Brahma, in the only Guineas run away from Flemington, the Mike Moroney-trained Jokers Wild ran third, narrowly beaten by Miss Finland and Casino Prince, at Caulfield in what was his first start in Australia after 15 starts across the ditch.
Jokers Wild started $21 and several others have been longshots, such as Sangster (15th at $41), Embellish (eighth at $16) and Rhinoceros (15th at $201), but a few have been highly fancied.
Xtravagant became the shortest-priced Kiwi since Zonda, who started $2.60 favourite, when he went around at $2.70 in 2016 but he could manage only eighth placing.
We Can Say It Now is the other New Zealander to start favourite this century, but she beat home just two rivals at $4.80 in 2011, while Catalyst was $3.40 second favourite when sixth behind Alligator Blood in 2020.
The other Kiwi to contest the Guineas since 2001 is Pure Theatre, who finished eighth behind Dash For Cash when a $10 chance.
Kelso is not underestimating the task confronting New Zealanders in Australian Group 1 races, particularly at 1600m in age-restricted grade, and he said victory might edge him a little closer to handing in his trainer’s licence.
“Travelling horses can be difficult, that makes it a bit harder than staying in your own territory, but if she puts her best foot forward, like she’s done at home in New Zealand and performs like that, hopefully she’s not going to be too far away,” he said from Flemington on Thursday morning.
“I’ve said all along, I’m not happy to retire until I’ve won a Group 1 in Australia – I’ve had three seconds – so it’d be a huge thing if she did win.”
Legarto is one of two fillies in this year’s Guineas field, joined by Perth raider Laced Up Heels, while she is not the lone New Zealander in the field.
Andrew Forsman, who campaigned with great success in Melbourne last spring, has Mr Maestro backing up after his second placing in last week’s Group 2 Autumn Classic at Sandown.
Don't miss out on your chance to witness Australia's best three-year-olds at Flemington on Saturday 4 March for the time-honoured Group 1 Australian Guineas. Find out more and book your tickets to Australian Guineas Day. This is one race day on the calendar that you won’t want to miss.