New Zealand has held a strong influence on the A$10 million Golden Eagle (1500m) since it was added to Sydney’s spring itinerary four years ago, and top-class Matamata mare Legarto has the opportunity to add to that record at Rosehill on Saturday.
Restricted to four-year-olds, the Golden Eagle is the fourth-richest race in the world, and the second-richest on turf behind another Sydney spring showpiece, the A$20 million The Everest (1200m).
The inaugural running of the Golden Eagle in 2019 was won by Kolding, a New Zealand-bred Ocean Park gelding from the stable of champion expat Kiwi trainer Chris Waller.
Shocking’s outstanding son I’m Thunderstruck added his name to the roll of honour two years later, followed by last year’s winner I Wish I Win, the freakish son of Savabeel who races in the colours of owner-breeders Waikato Stud. For good measure, fellow New Zealand-breds Icebath and Gypsy Goddess have also been placed in the race.
Legarto heads into Saturday’s 2023 edition with credentials that stack up favourably with what any of those previous stars had achieved at the same stage of their careers.
The daughter of Proisir has won seven of her nine starts, including Group One triumphs on both sides of the Tasman as a three-year-old last season. She won the New Zealand 1000 Guineas (1600m) at Riccarton by almost five lengths last November, then became the first New Zealand-trained winner of the Australian Guineas (1600m) in Melbourne in March.
That was the only Australian appearance so far for Legarto, who has since kicked off her four-year-old season with an unlucky placing in the Gr.1 Tarzino Trophy (1400m) and a last-start win in the Listed Matamata Cup (1600m).
Legarto flew across the Tasman earlier this week, with trainers Ken and Bev Kelso believing her Golden Eagle build-up has so far gone perfectly to plan.
“I was very pleased with her exhibition gallop at Rotorua, and she worked particularly well again on the course proper at Matamata on Tuesday,” Ken Kelso said.
“She’s done everything right. She’s very bright and well. We couldn’t be any happier with how the preparation has gone. It’s all up to her now.”
Legarto has drawn gate six and will be ridden by her Australian Guineas-winning jockey Michael Dee. The expat New Zealander is based in Melbourne, but is sacrificing Derby Day at Flemington to continue his association with Legarto.
“It gives us a bit of confidence that he was willing to come to Sydney to ride her, even if it meant giving up rides on Derby Day,” Kelso said. “He rang me immediately after the Matamata Cup and said, ‘Lock me in. I’ll be there.’ That was quite encouraging to hear.”
Legarto’s formidable opposition on Saturday includes Group One winners Amelia’s Jewel, Golden Mile, Kovalica, Rediener, Communist and Ruthless Dame, along with elite placegetters Hawaii Five Oh, Pericles, Osipenko and the Japanese raider Obamburumai.
“It’s a very, very good field – we know that,” Kelso said. “It’s a $10 million race, so you’d be dreaming if you expected the opposition to be anything other than exceptionally strong. But we think she deserves her place in that line-up. She’s only four once.”