Promising filly Tonia’s Dragon produced a deserved maiden victory in the testing conditions at Te Aroha on Friday, scoring in the Donaghys Pro-Dairy 1180.
Coming off an encouraging fresh-up fifth behind Dazzled at Tauranga last month, the daughter of Time Test returned to age-group company on the newly-reopened Te Aroha track, which was downgraded from a Soft6 to a Heavy9 by the three-year-old maiden event due to deteriorating weather conditions.
Prepared at Matamata by Michael Moroney and Pam Gerard, Tonia’s Dragon broke cleanly from the barriers and took a clear lead in the seven-horse field, a calm Kozzi Asano controlling the tempo throughout ahead of race-favourite and debutant I’munstoppable, and Bee On Time.
While others opted for the wide alley on the Heavy9 surface at Te Aroha, Asano hugged the rail down the home stretch and the filly’s early advantage was all important in the finish, holding a strong sprint to edge the fast-closing I’munstoppable by a head at the post.
“We had been looking forward to getting her back to the races after a very good fresh-up run,” Gerard said.
“She drew a nice gate (3) and we expected a really bold showing. She’d been going super and we couldn’t have been happier with her progress between runs.
The maiden victory came at Tonia’s Dragon’s fourth race-day start, having shown ability on debut as a two-year-old when third behind Whiskey Lies in July, before finding the heavy conditions at Otaki too testing in the Listed Ryder Stakes (1200m).
“We didn’t have a lot of time after the Ryder Stakes to have a spell and come back, but she had a couple of weeks in the paddock at home,” Gerard said.
“She’s always been quite a strong, stocky filly but probably lengthened out a bit. She’s actually quite even but hasn’t really developed physically as yet.
The talented filly had indicated she could handle the heavier conditions in a comfortable trial win prior to her race-day debut, giving Gerard confidence she could bounce back from her Ryder performance.
“I don’t think the ground ended up as bad as some thought and it held up pretty well with persistent drizzle during the day,” she said.
“Obviously they had to handle a wet track, and she’d shown to cope with it when winning at the trials, which was a reason we went to the Ryder, but she didn’t cop it that heavy.
“I don’t think she minds a bit of cut in the track, like others in the sire line, but I think it’s mainly because she tries so hard.”
Gerard noted that the victory came on the birthday of the late Taiki Yanagida, a great friend of fellow jockey Asano who carried the colours of Yanagida’s Westbury Classic (1400m)-winning mount Dragon Queen aboard Tonia’s Dragon.
“It’s Taiki’s birthday with his good mate Kozzi aboard, and in the colours of owners who supported him.”