Class mare Levante didn’t surprise anyone by winning a 1000m trial at Matamata last week, but the manner in which she won it suggests she’ll be an even tougher horse to beat this season.
Group Two winner Levante has won seven of her 11 career starts and is known for her get-back run-on style, often brought about by a lack of early speed.
However, in her trial last week Levante jumped well and took a trail just behind the leaders without being asked and was well within striking position on the turn, cruising to the line to defeat quality galloper Brando without being extended.
Ken Kelso, who trains the five-year-old mare in partnership with his wife Bev, hoped it could be a sign of things to come this season.
“We haven’t worked on it at all with her, but hopefully she’s going to carry that through to raceday,” Kelso said.
“I don’t think she needs to be dropped out as much as she was in the past, so that was a pleasing aspect of what she did.
“I’m very happy with the way she’s coming up.”
All three of Levante’s defeats last season came in Group One races won by top-flight mare Avantage, and her barrier tardiness contributed to at least two of them.
In the Group 1 BCD Group Sprint (1400m), Levante bungled the start, being left eight lengths behind the second to last horse before finishing fifth.
Two starts prior in the Group 1 Railway (1200m), she jumped on terms with the field, but a very slow mid-race sectional gave her too much to do from last, despite running a final 600m in a stunning 32.53 seconds.
Levante will follow a similar path to last season, commencing with the Listed Haunui Farm Counties Bowl (1100m), a race she won last year.
Due to COVID restrictions, the Counties Bowl will be conducted at Te Rapa on November 20 and then be aimed at the Group 1 Sistema Railway (1200m) at Ellerslie on New Year’s Day again.
“She’s probably at the same stage as she was last year, though she’s going to get a lot more than the 53kg she got last year in the Counties Bowl,” Kelso said.
“After the Bowl she’ll head to the Railway, though whether she has a run in between we don’t know. She didn’t last year but being a year older she might want one race in between.”
All going well, Levante will then head to the Group 1 JR & N Berkett Telegraph (1200m) at Trentham in mid-January.
“It would be nice to win a Group One in New Zealand and then maybe look to Australia if everything’s back to normal then,” Kelso said.
Samantha Collett rode Levante through last season but with her move to Australia, Ryan Elliot will regain the ride which he had during her three-year-old season.
“The only reason he didn’t ride her last season was because of weight – I needed someone that could ride at 53kg,” Kelso said.
The Matamata horseman also has black-type plans for exciting mare Les Crayeres, who has stepped through the grades to win five of her ten career starts, including a last-start victory over 1500m at Te Rapa.
Connections had considered a start in the Group 2 Dunstan Feeds Auckland Thoroughbred Breeders’ Stakes (1400m) on Saturday week but will bide their time.
The Sir Peter Vela-bred and raced daughter of Redoute’s Choice will step out in an open handicap over 1400m at Tauranga this weekend and is then expected to make her black type debut in the Group 3 Eagle Technology Stakes (1600m) under set weights with penalties conditions at Te Aroha on November 27.
“She should only have to carry 53kg there so this keeps her down in the weights,” Kelso said.
“She would have shot up in the weights if she’d won the Breeders’ Stakes, though the black type would have made up for that.”
Meanwhile, Kelso’s high-quality winter mare Shoshone has been put aside for the summer after tailing the field in the Listed Legacy Lodge Sprint (1200m) at Te Rapa last Saturday.
“The drier track may not have helped but she got galloped on and came back with a cut on her back leg so she’s gone out,” Kelso said.