New Zealand trainers Ken and Bev Kelso and the connections of top mare Levante can look forward to the Melbourne spring carnival with confidence following her bold showing in her Australian debut.
They were on a fact-finding mission with the daughter of Proisir and she responded positively to finish fourth down the Flemington straight in Saturday’s Group 1 Newmarket Handicap (1200m).
Levante established herself as New Zealand’s premier sprinter this season with consecutive victories in the Group 1 Telegraph (1200m) and the Group 1 BCD Sprint (1400m) to set up the Melbourne scouting venture.
“It was a hit and run mission to see how she coped with the trip away and how she would measure up. She’s proven herself now and handled it all brilliantly,” Kelso said.
“She’s coming home on Wednesday evening and the plan all along was to give her just the one run.”
Levante will be given a break when the five-year-old returns home and then be prepared for an extended Victorian campaign later this year.
“Hopefully, she will come back to Melbourne in the spring for the fillies and mares’ races and we know now she can be competitive up to a mile,” Kelso said.
“She handled the trip very well, she’s been absolutely brilliant. The Empire Rose Stakes (Group 1, 1600m) is an obvious race and there is an abundance of other fillies and mares’ races.”
Levante jumped from barrier 10 in the Newmarket and stayed with the bulk of the runners closest to the grandstand side of the track, as did all the favoured runners, but the first three home – Kiwi mare and longshot winner Roch ‘N’ Horse, runner-up The Astrologist and September Run – all stayed on the inside.
“We were very proud of her, unfortunately we just got on the wrong side and it was quite a strange race really,” Kelso said.
“All the better horses like Home Affairs, Lost And Running, Masked Crusader and us all drew on the grandstand side and everybody was picking that was the right side so it was unusual.
“I said to Michael Dee to latch on to Hugh Bowman on Lost And Running. He looked a big chance and drew right beside us, but as it turned out the inside was the better place.
“We won the race on the outside and didn’t get taken into the race either. We thought Hugh would take us into the race on Lost in Running, but as it turned out he was gone pretty quickly and left us a sitting duck.
“I think she was almost last at the clock tower so she did us proud and proved she can measure up.”
Expatriate New Zealand jockey Dee endorsed Kelso’s summation of Levante’s performance.
“It was a huge effort, it was just a bit of a shame that I hit the front so early on the grandstand side,” he said.
“It would have been nice if something had of been able to take us into it a little bit further. It was a great effort and she’s certainly up to them.”
Levante has won 10 of her 16 starts up to 1600m, having been successful at the latter trip 12 months ago in the Royal Descent Stakes at Ellerslie.
“She has won at a mile very well, she is bred to go even further but I think 1400m to a mile is best for her,” Kelso said.