Waddell mastery sets up dominant Oaks for Jennifer Eccles

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Jennifer Eccles

With a horror draw nullified by jockey Jason Waddell, the superiority of Jennifer Eccles shone through in Saturday’s Group 1 Al Basti Equiworld Dubai New Zealand Oaks (2400m) at Trentham.

The daughter of Rip Van Winkle earned hot favouritism for the $400,000 fillies’ classic with dominant lead-up victories in last month’s Group 2 David & Karyn Ellis Fillies’ Classic (2000m) and Group 2 Lowland Stakes (2100m). But Wednesday’s barrier draw handed Jennifer Eccles the extreme outside gate in the 18-horse field, sending ripples of nerves through trainer Shaune Ritchie and Saturday’s bumper on-course Challenge Syndicate contingent of 95 people.

They had no need to worry. Waddell weaved his way across the wide Trentham straight, and within 300m he had found a perfect midfield position, one off the rail. Jennifer Eccles settled into a smooth rhythm down the back of the track, but she struck another snag when she began to improve her position coming up to the home turn. With a number of fillies rapidly tiring in front of her, Jennifer Eccles clipped a heel and stumbled. But Waddell angled her into clear air, and the star filly quickly regained her balance and momentum.

She soared to the front in the straight, and despite starting to tire over the last 100m, she cruised to an emphatic victory by a length and a half. “It wasn’t pretty at the 500m,” Waddell admitted. “She was going too well, and I had fillies stopping in front of me too soon. I was trying to move her out of the way and just caught a heel. “But, far out, she came back underneath me. I’ve ridden some good horses, and she’s right up at the very top. “She gave me a great feeling when she sprinted to the lead. I knew she’d get tired, and she did, so I just looked after her in the last bit. She’s a super filly.”

It was the third New Zealand Oaks victory for Ritchie, who won it with Keep The Peace in 2010 and added a quinella with Artistic and Zurella two years later. “Every Oaks win is a big win,” the Cambridge trainer said. “I love training these three-year-old fillies over ground. “Keep The Peace was great, and the quinella for The Oaks Stud was wonderful as well, but this filly looks like she could be every bit as good as them – if not better.

“Jason Waddell is unbelievable. From gate 18, you wouldn’t believe he could get across to where he was by the time they went past the finish line for the first time. “She’s a spectacular filly and has a great turn of foot. We had a few questions about the 2400m, especially after she raced quite aggressively in the Lowland last time, but she relaxed beautifully down the back straight.”

Bought for just $5000 by syndicator Adrian Clark, Jennifer Eccles has now won four of her 11 starts and $499,650 in stakes. The big crowd of syndicate members gave their pride and joy a huge ovation as she returned to the winners’ circle. “It’s wonderful for racing,” Ritchie said. “There’s a huge crowd of them here, albeit not allowed in the birdcage today. It brings such great atmosphere and colour to the game.”

Jennifer Eccles completed a runaway victory in the New Zealand Bloodstock Filly of the Year Series, racking up a total of 44.5 points. The only other filly to reach 40 points in the last two decades is the Group 1 New Zealand 1000 Guineas (1600m) and Oaks winner Justa Tad, who earned 42 points in 2004- 05. With her domestic dominance so emphatically asserted, the final frontier could be the Group 1 Australian Oaks (2400m) at Randwick on April 11.

Ritchie indicated that a decision on any possible trans-Tasman targets could be made in the coming week. “After that win, I’m sure she’ll be right in the market for the ATC Oaks,” he said. “But we are well aware that she’s had a very busy year. We’ll enjoy this moment and get her home, and then I’ll talk to Adrian (Clark). We might make a decision towards the end of the week.”

Last-start maiden winner Vancooga roared home from second-last to finish second at odds of $53, delivering a huge thrill to owner-breeder Gavin O’Dea, trainer Gavin Sharrock and jockey Holly Andrew. South Island visitor Feel The Rush was a further long neck away in third.

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