A trip to Melbourne last year not only gave Ken and Bev Kelso their biggest moment in racing, courtesy of Legarto's victory in the Group 1 Australian Guineas (1600m), but also a filly that could prove to be just as exciting.
The day following Legarto's Guineas triumph, the Matamata couple trekked out to Inglis' Premier Yearling Sale and were taken by an Alabama Express filly out of Shadow Hill Thoroughbreds' draft, and went to A$120,000 to secure her in association with bloodstock agent Dean Hawthorne.
“I had an order to buy one at Karaka. I went to Karaka and got blown out of the water,” Ken Kelso said. “Everything that I liked, everyone else seemed to have more money.
“I then said to the owners, ‘I couldn't find anything here I really liked that we could buy within our budget', which was $140,000, I said ‘let's look around Melbourne'.
“Dean Hawthorne has done a lot of work for us over the years and he did a short-list of about 30. I fell in love with this filly and we were lucky to get her for A$120,000, which was within our budget.”
They named the filly Alabama Lass and she continued to impress the Kelsos, winning her first trial in October, beating subsequent Karaka Millions 2YO (1200m) winner Velocious.
She continued her winning run when taking out her second trial in impressive fashion last month and Kelso was relatively confident heading into her raceday debut at Matamata on Wednesday, but she far exceeded those expectations.
Alabama Lass jumped well for jockey Sam Spratt and went straight to the lead, while race favourite Zelezniak was slow away and settled at the rear of the field. Spratt kept a solid tempo up front and Alabama Lass looked every inch the winner throughout.
Spratt allowed her charge to extend at the top of the straight and she quickly opened up on her rivals, coasting away to a 9.5 length victory, with her time of 1.03.36 just 0.05 seconds outside of the track record.
Kelso was duly rapt with the performance and has eyed a return to the track later this month with his filly to target the Group 2 Matamata Breeders' Stakes (1200m).
“She was very impressive,” he said. “She jumped well and then Sam said she relaxed when she got to the front and did it easily.
“Hopefully, all going well and she pulls up okay, we will come back here for the Breeders' in two-and-a-half weeks time.”
While enamoured with the filly from day dot, Kelso said her precocity has taken him a bit by surprise.
“When we bought her in Melbourne as a yearling, I didn't think she would make a two-year-old, but she has surprised us and has kept progressing,” he said.
“She is actually not bred to be a two-year-old. She is a half to Bad ‘n' Bouj and a few in her family have raced up to 1400m and a mile. It will be interesting. As she develops, she will probably be wanting to go further.
“Even looking at her now, she is still quite frail, but she has obviously got a lot of ability and she will definitely get better with age.”
It was a bittersweet moment for the ownership group, with major owner Maurie Dunn having passed away six months ago.
“Maurie Dunn and Eddie Tynan, from Auckland, raced Shoshone with us. They said they would like another one, but sadly Maurie died about six months ago,” Kelso said.
“His wife Marie has continued to stay in the partnership. Maurie's son Murray and his wife Jo are also in the ownership, along with John Moore, the former president here (Matamata Racing Club), Tony Egan and his wife Sue.
“Maurie was a champion bloke. He had the TAB in Mt Maunganui for years, and was well-known in the industry.”
The Kelsos are now hoping the victory is an appetiser for further success later in the week, with their star mare Legarto set to compete in the Group 1 Herbie Dyke Stakes (2000m) at Te Rapa on Saturday.