Proud Nickalls homeward bound

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Rangiotu trainer Stephen Nickalls was looking forward to being reunited with his family on Monday, as he returns to New Zealand following several weeks in Adelaide.

The popular Central Districts horseman thoroughly enjoyed his time in the City of Churches, where his three-year-old filly Llanacord turned in a pair of game performances and landed some valuable black-type.

Group One placed in the New Zealand Oaks (2400m), the daughter of Contributer finished a luckless 10th in the Group 1 Australasian Oaks (2000m) before a gritty second in Saturday’s Group 3 SA Fillies Classic (2500m) at Morphettville.

Ridden by Todd Pannell, Llanacord hit the front with 200m to run but was nabbed late by Mimi’s Award.

“They got to the furlong and we were going nuts, it was pretty cool,” Nickalls said.

“Todd said she got to the front and sat up and waited for the other one and then when the winner got past her she went again.

“We got beaten by a better one on the day, but she was enormous. We are so proud of her.”

Both horse and trainer had started the journey home on Monday, with Llanacord set for a decent spell after a 12-start campaign that began in October and was highlighted by victory in the Group 2 Lowland Stakes (2100m) prior to her Oaks placing.

“She’s at Patrick Payne’s at the moment, she went up on the transporter overnight. He’ll look after her until she flies out of Melbourne on Thursday and comes home. She’ll come home and go to the paddock and we can admire her from over the fence,” Nickalls said.

The trainer was grateful to those who assisted him in campaigning a horse abroad for the first time, including Morphettville trainer Ryan Balfour.

“I thoroughly enjoyed the experience. Adelaide’s a fantastic place and I met some incredible people,” Nickalls said.

“Ryan and his staff and his forman John, they couldn’t have been more helpful. We met up with a couple of his owners and they took us on wine tours and round the city and the hospitality was out of this world.”

The trip now provides Nickalls with a benchmark of the calibre of horse required to compete across the Tasman and he said further travel would hold no fears.

Nickalls part-owns the filly in conjunction with his mother and stepfather, Dianne and Kevin Hopson, the latter having purchased Llanacord for just $15,000 at Book 2 of the New Zealand Bloodstock National Yearling Sale in 2019.

While further travel could await Llanacord as a four-year-old, Nickalls had yet to scour the racing calendar looking for future targets.

“To be honest we haven’t even thought about it,” he said.

“I said to Kevin, everybody wants to know where we’re going next but he was like me and said ‘I haven’t even looked at the book’. We’ll worry about that in a month or two.

“She had her first trial in September and she hasn’t really had a break up until now. We’re in no rush to bring her back and do too much in the spring.

“She’s one tough cookie. To be fair after the New Zealand Oaks, she knew she’d had a run and it took her a week or so to get over it where she felt very flat. We just played around at home, where we can do a few different things and after a week she picked up again.

“She’s got a great constitution. From the time we arrived in Adelaide she hasn’t left anything in the feed bin, she’s licked the bowl clean. She walks around at the track like an old steeplechaser just taking it all in and everyone was quite surprised how well she adapted.”

Nickalls and his wife Laura Knight train about 10 horses between them, while Knight, daughter of former All Black Gary Knight, also has showjumpers.

A jumps racing enthusiast, Nickalls said there were no winter blues in his household but having Llanacord to look forward to next season would definitely help.

“We’ve got the jumpers to look forward to and I love winter, it’s my favourite time of the year. But she’s definitely a carrot at the end of calving anyway,” he said.

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