With a dominant home-track performance in Saturday’s Listed Team Wealleans Matamata Cup (1600m), Legarto has put last week’s weather woes behind her and set her sights on Sydney.
The exceptional daughter of Proisir was a Group One winner on both sides of the Tasman as a three-year-old last season, blowing her rivals away in the New Zealand 1000 Guineas (1600m) before launching an incredible late burst to become the first New Zealand-trained winner of the Australian Guineas (1600m).
After producing another eye-catching finish from an awkward position to resume with a third in last month’s Gr.1 Tarzino Trophy (1400m) at Hastings, she was a hot favourite to return to her Group One-winning ways in last Saturday’s Arrowfield Stud Plate (1600m) at the same venue. However, relentless rain pushed the track down into the heavy range and forced Legarto to be scratched on race morning.
Trainers Ken and Bev Kelso looked closer to home for their back-up plan, lining up in the Matamata Cup seven days later. Legarto got in with some weight relief courtesy of fellow Group One winner La Crique, whose higher rating of 107 pushed her impost down to 58.5kg. Legarto was sent out as a $1.60 favourite, and there was barely a nervous moment.
Rider Ryan Elliot settled in seventh, three wide but with cover – deliberately keeping her well away from the rail to minimise the risk of traffic trouble at the business end of the race.
Legarto began to stride forward coming down the side of the track, and by the time the field rounded the home turn, she had swooped up alongside the front-running La Crique and thrown down the gauntlet.
La Crique lifted bravely in response to Legarto’s challenge, with quality staying mare Aquacade diving through in between the pair in an eye-catching resuming run.
But Legarto’s superstar qualities shone through in the final 150m and she pulled ahead, winning by three-quarters of a length from Aquacade.
It was a second Matamata Cup win in the last six years for the Kelsos, who saddled Cote D’Or to win the local feature in 2017.
“I just told Ryan to ride her like the best horse in the race – give her clear air and she’ll do the rest,” Ken Kelso said. “And he did. He gave her plenty of room, got her into the clear and it was very pleasing.
“Ryan has got to know her pretty well. He’s had a couple of bad-luck runs on her – there was the Karaka Million (1600m) last season, which wasn’t his fault, and then she got in an awkward spot at Hastings as well. She probably should have won both of those races, so she should probably be unbeaten. But that’s racing. They don’t race in lanes.
“She’s an excitement machine and it’s a privilege to train her for nice people. Bev and I are getting to the stage where we’re close to retirement, but when you get a horse like this, you can’t really do that. It’s a big thrill for both of us. We’re slowing down numbers-wise, but we’ll keep going for a while yet when we have a horse like her.
“I think it was great for the Matamata club that they had a field like this for the Cup today. It’s a great little club to train at, the facilities are good and they really look after us trainers. It’s good to have horses like this here today.”
Bred by Warwick Jeffries, Legarto was offered by Highline Thoroughbreds in Book 2 of Karaka 2021. Her nine-start career has now produced seven wins, a third and a fourth, earning more than $1.17 million in stakes for her dozen owners.
The Kelsos are now working their way towards the A$10 million Golden Eagle (1500m) on November 4.
“We’ve got a month now between this race and the Golden Eagle, so we’ll probably give her an exhibition gallop or a trial or something in between,” Kelso said. “We’re pretty well on track again now, I think.”
The TAB now rates Legarto a $6 chance for the Golden Eagle, with Amelia’s Jewel the favourite at $4.50. Elliot has no doubt that the Kiwi star will make her presence felt.
“She got a nice drag into the race today and has done it easily enough,” he said. “She’s had a really good blow, so this should clean her up nicely.
“I’ve never ridden another horse like her, and I think she’s a lot stronger now than she was as a three-year-old. She can carry herself properly now, and she’s so switched on. The penny has finally dropped. Onwards and upwards for her.
“Just wait until she hits a good track. Watch out, Aussie.”