Punters who thought the result of the Group 3 McKee Family Sunline Vase (2100m) was a foregone conclusion when installing glamour filly Amarelinha a red-hot -333.33 favourite for the race were left hanging on the result of the photo-finish to a thrilling contest in the fillies feature.
Most expected Amarelinha to carry on her winning way after registering a pair of Group Two victories and a brave runner-up finish to Aegon in the Karaka Million 3YO Classic (1600m) in her last three starts.
However, no-one told under-rated Makfi filly Needle And Thread who went about upsetting the applecart in no uncertain terms.
Taken to the front by rider Craig Grylls, Needle And Thread had her rivals under enormous pressure as she skipped clear on the point of the home turn, just as she had when winning the Group 2 Royal Stakes (2000m) at the same venue on New Year’s Day.
Amarelinha and rider Opie Bosson set out after Needle And Thread with a determined staying run, clawing back the advantage inch by inch as the winning post loomed. Just as Needle And Thread was being hailed the winner, Amarelinha lunged and got in the deciding stride to take victory by the barest of margins.
“That is certainly a relief,” trainer Jamie Richards said after hearing the result of the photo-finish.
“It was unfortunate that when Opie tried to get forward and mobile, they all dug up inside him and she (Amarelinha) was very wide from the 600m.
“The second horse is no slouch as she has got very good form, so we will head to Wellington in a fortnight, ready to go.”
Richards was referring to the Group 1 Al Basti Equiworld Dubai New Zealand Oaks (2400m) on March 20, where Amarelinha and Needle And Thread are likely to clash once again.
Purchased by David Ellis for $300,000 from the Waikato Stud draft during Book 1 at Karaka in 2019, Amarelinha has won four of her 6 starts and three at stakes level. TAB Bookmakers have her installed as the -166.67 favourite for the New Zealand Oaks with Needle And Thread the equal +700 second favourite with Cheaperthandivorce.
Earlier in the day classy three-year-old sprinter Need I Say More underlined all his fighting qualities when he ran down flying filly Babylon Berlin to win the Listed Fasttrack Mufhasa Stakes (1300m) at Ellerslie on Sunday.
Fresh-up off the back of a win on Karaka Million night, where he took out the Group 3 Almanzor Trophy (1200m), the Jamie Richards-trained chestnut had trialled against older horses over 1000m at Pukekohe ten days earlier to prepare him for Sunday’s assignment.
Pacemaker Babylon Berlin, who carried 4kgs less than Need I Say More, attempted to steal a march on her rivals rounding the home bend under rider Samantha Collett.
But the favourite comfortably ate into the margin via a cool Opie Bosson ride to score by three-quarters of a length, with stablemate Cornflower Blue finishing off nicely for third.
A multiple Group winner, the son of No Nay Never advanced his career record to six wins from eight starts.
“He’s a quality horse who sneaks under the radar a little at home, as he doesn’t put a lot of enthusiasm into his work,” Richards said. “He ran last at the trials at Pukekohe the other day, but that’s just him and he turns up on raceday.
“It was a lovely ride by Opie as he didn’t panic when Sam (Collett) put a bit of a break on him and the horse ground away nicely over the last little bit.
“He’s a promising horse who has put together a good record so far.”
Richards has another stakes target in mind for the gelding who was purchased for $130,000 by David Ellis CNZM out of the Kilgravin Lodge draft during the Book 1 Sale at Karaka in 2019.
“He will go to the Wellington Guineas (Group 2, 1400m) in a fortnight,” he said.
“Cornflower Blue will be there with him and I thought she went nicely first up.
“We could actually have four in that race as we might also have Brando and Kahma Lass, who have come back from Australia, there as well.”
That victory also brought up a notable milestone for Richards and Te Akau Racing as it was the stable’s 26th stakes win in New Zealand for the season, breaking the record of 25 set by Murray Baker and Andrew Forsman in the 2018/19 racing season.
With the win by Amarelinha and Entriviere in the Group 3 Haunui Farm King’s Plate (1200m) one race earlier, that tally now stands at 28 stakes wins in New Zealand for the season.