Matamata trainer Jamie Richards is comfortable with star mare Melody Belle carrying the favourite tag into Saturday’s Group 2 Missile Stakes (1200m) at Rosehill. Commands six-year-old Melody Belle has won three of her seven previous first-up starts though was fourth in last year’s Group 2 Foxbridge Plate (1200m) at Te Rapa and fourth in the Group 1 Futurity Stakes (1400m) at Caulfield in February in her last two resuming runs.
“She’s in good condition. She trialled up well and had an exhibition gallop between races at Randwick last month,” Richards said. “She’s eating well and she’s forward enough to give a bit of cheek. She’s definitely ahead of where she was fresh-up last year. Before she came back to the races for the Foxbridge Plate she didn’t really have an opportunity for a decent hit-out before her trial at Te Rapa which was only plain. “Without having seen her, which is a little bit different this time around, we’re happy she’s more forward than she was last season. And punters can see she’s got a good record fresh and that she can handle an off track.”
TAB bookmakers have 10-time Group 1 winner Melody Belle as a $3.50 favourite, mirroring similar support for her in Australian markets ahead of the set-weights and penalties sprint on a Rosehill track that was rated a Heavy8 on Thursday morning. She impressed winning an 850m trial on the Kensington track at Randwick last week and had continued to prosper since, said Richards, who admitted training remotely from New Zealand was an odd experience.
“It’s got its challenges but (travelling attendant) Ashley Handley has done a great job,” Richards said. “She’s a very good communicator and we’ve got good processes in place to stay up to date with her weight and temperature and Ashley will let us know how she’s working and eating. “But as a trainer, there’s still nothing like being there and seeing them.”
Melody Belle, who this week joined Avantage, Probabeel and Prise De Fer as Te Akau Racing entries for October’s $A5 million Group 1 Cox Plate (2040m) at Moonee Valley, has drawn barrier 11 for the Missile Stakes with Kerrin McEvoy booked to ride. “The draw makes it difficult but if the rain comes, it might be the place to be. We expect her to be competitive. As I said, she’s ahead of where she was for her first run this time last year but she will take improvement into her next-up run in two weeks’ time in the Winx Stakes,” Richards said.
The Group 1 $A500,000 Winx Stakes (1400m) is at Randwick on August 22 and Melody Belle’s performance there will determine her spring programme. “We haven’t got too far ahead of ourselves yet. We had planned to go to Melbourne but the way things are there at the moment, we’ll just hold off making plans.”
Melody Belle had to undergo a veterinary inspection relating to a skin irritation on Thursday morning in order to start on Saturday, but Richards said she passed with flying colours. “It’s of no consequence,” Richards said. “The vet has been there and had a look over her this morning and he was very happy. It’s just one of those things you have to report and keep open and transparent. It is nothing to be concerned about.”
Two trials for Group and Listed performers at Taupo next Wednesday will help Richards plot spring pathways for several stable stars, with Avantage, Prise De Fer, Scott Base and In A Twinkling all slated to trial there, though trial spots will be at a premium with only two eight-horse trials planned. “Avantage, Prise De Fer and Scott Base are the most forward and they will kick off in the Foxbridge Plate and make their way to Hastings for the Tarzino Trophy (Group 1, 1400),” Richards said.
“Horses like In A Twinkling and Savy Yong Blonk might wait till they get up to the mile and 2000m races there. Importantly this year, we’ve had a really good couple of days when we’ve been able to get the sun on their backs and they are really thriving. “But there’s nothing like getting them to the racetrack where they can listen to the music (commentaries) and they’ll really improve from that.”
Richards has eight horses accepted to race on Saturday, with Bak Da Master, Richard Of Yorke, Lilikoi, Remington, Romantic Lady, Savy Yong Blonk and Luminous entered for Te Rapa and Remington and Al Haram in at Hawera. “A few have got bad gates but they are all forward enough to give a good sight, maybe not winning but taking improvement to be top chances next time. “I’m looking forward to Savy Yong Blonk resuming and Luminous is coming up well. Remington is going well but he’s drawn 17 at Hawera which makes it that bit tougher.”
Meanwhile, Richards confirmed Te Akau Shark would fly back to New Zealand on August 17 to spell following eye surgery in Sydney in June.