The Stephen Nickalls-trained Llanacord landed the Group 2 Little Avondale Stud Lowland Stakes (2100m) at Hastings on Wednesday to provide the Rangiotu trainer, who part-owns the three-year-old filly, with his biggest moment in racing.
The daughter of Contributer had run out a dominant eight-length winner in maiden grade over 2040m at Whanganui last month and handled the step-up to Group company as she narrowly withstood the late challenge of runner-up Charms Star by a nose in a brave performance.
Ridden by Leah Hemi, Llanacord enjoyed a nice run three back on the fence before being presented at the top of the straight and proved too tough in the run home, setting up a tilt at the Group 1 Al Basti Equiworld Dubai New Zealand Oaks (2400m) at Trentham on March 20.
“It feels amazing. It’s just an incredible feeling,” Nickalls, best-known for training jumpers, said after claiming his first flat stakes success.
“We ran second in a Wellington Steeplechase and that was a special day, but this is pretty cool.
“I know we are in COVID times and it is a very different world, but it didn’t dampen the enthusiasm at all.
“I have got to say a big thank you to Darryl Bradley who galloped her on Monday for me and said ‘this filly has just improved out of sight’.
“We were happy with her and she was fit and healthy. If she was good enough, she was in the right condition, and she certainly proved she was good enough.”
Llanacord, who became the first Group winner for her Mapperley Stud-based sire Contributer, is now a +1300 chance in the New Zealand Oaks in a market headed by Amarelinha (-142.86) and Nickalls believes the filly will stay the 2400m despite her narrow victory.
“Leah came back in and said ‘we’ve got an Oaks filly’,” he said. “I’ve got no fears of her going the 2400m. Right the way through she has given us the feel of the further she goes, the better she will go.
“She hit the lead very early today, she has done what she had to do and was brave right to the line. We will go home and wrap her in cotton wool and pray for the best.”
Nickalls owns the filly in conjunction with his mother and stepfather, Dianne and Kevin Hopson. The latter bought her for $15,000 at Book 2 of the New Zealand Bloodstock National Yearling Sale in 2019 and sent her to be prepared by Glynn Brick in Cambridge.
However, that came to a tragic end when Brick died in a car crash near Cambridge in March last year.
“Glynn had trained Kevin’s horses for 10 years, and the intention was always that he would train this filly,” Nickalls said.
“When that happened my stepfather called and asked if I could take her and we were only too happy to.
“They were very tragic circumstances. To be able to do something with her is something, and if she can even run in the Oaks it will have great sentimental value for all of us.
“We still have a lot to do with the family and there is a memorial for Glynn in a couple of weeks, so she will be running for him in the Oaks, that’s for sure.”
Nickalls and his wife Laura Knight train about 10 horses between them, while Knight, daughter of former All Black Gary Knight, also has showjumpers.
“We both like the jumpers. We tend to look for horses that will either be stayers on the flat, or if they’re too slow for that, become jumpers.”
The popular horseman said the win was special given the family involvement in the horse.
“She is a proper family horse. Laura is heavily involved and our little five-year-old daughter Mya leads her in from the paddock each day,” Nickalls said.
“The stables are at the house and we do all the work ourselves and we can have Mya involved and the broader family involved, and to me that is the most important thing.
“Kevin has always wanted a top filly. His parents raced a good filly called Impasada with the O’Sullivans many moons ago and he has always been adamant he wants a good filly. She’s a Group Two winner now and we will do everything in our power to get her to the Oaks in a few weeks.”