Matamata filly Imelda Mary caused a minor upset when she dashed away from her age-group rivals to take out the Gr.2 Valachi Downs Royal Stakes (2000m) at Ellerslie on Tuesday.
The nuggety Ferlax three-year-old was stepping up from a maiden victory over 1600m at her last-start although she had hinted she was more than comfortable in black-type company with a gritty fifth in the Gr.1 New Zealand 1000 Guineas (1600m) back in November.
Given a perfect trip in midfield by rider Cameron Lammas, Imelda Mary sprinted quickly to the front early in the run home as she put a winning break on her nearest chaser.
Awapuni visitor Secret Allure and the well fancied Luminous tried hard however Imelda Mary was too strong as she held out all challenges to score by just over a length at the line.
The win held special significance for trainer Wayne Hillis, who was trying hard to keep his emotions in check as he waited for his charge to return to the winner’s enclosure.
“It’s very special,” Hillis said.
“This filly is named after my mum, so it’s unbelievable.
“I’ve been in racing all my life and had some good thrills, but this is right up there.”
Whilst Hillis has Imelda Mary nominated for the Gr.1 Al Basti Equiworld Dubai New Zealand Oaks (2400m) at Trentham on March 16, he is leaning towards a richer target back at Ellerslie later this month as her next assignment.
“She’s in the Oaks as that is her main target, but I’ll freshen her up and have a go at the Karaka Million (3YO 1600m) as she is eligible for that,” he said.
“It’s a mile, so whether that is far enough, or she wants to keep going further, we’ve got to have a go.
“I was pretty confident (today) but you can’t be over confident in these big races. Just with the way she was running on, definitely we were confident.”
The Ferlax filly was a bargain buy for her trainer, with Hillis purchasing her out of Haunui Farm’s 2017 New Zealand Bloodstock Festival Yearling Sale draft for $3,500.
The Karaka Million 3YO Classic (1600m) will be run at Ellerslie on January 26.
The Royal Stakes is the fifth event in the prestigious New Zealand Bloodstock Filly of the Year series with Imelda Mary taking out the eight points on offer. The series is currently led by 1000 Guineas winner Media Sensation on 12 points with Imelda Mary, Pinmedown and Queen Of Diamonds tied in second on 8 points. – NZ Racing Desk