McNab on a high as supermare Melody Belle storms back to top form

Pure delight: Michael McNab and Melody Belle capture the Gr1 Tarzino Trophy at Hastings on Saturday. Photo: Trish Dunell

New Zealand’s favourite horse, the prolific mare Melody Belle, is one of world racing’s stars of the week. Not only did her stirring victory on Saturday in the Tarzino Trophy, the country’s first G1 of the new season, provide her connections with significant lifts in their respective categories in the TRC Global Rankings, but she is expected to be named New Zealand Horse of the Year on Saturday.

The 1400-metre Tarzino Trophy at Hastings was the 5-year-old’s seventh G1 success in just over two years, and it meant a five-point rise in the TRC Performance Index of her rising star trainer, Jamie Richards, who climbs six places to #21, a four-point rise for owners the Fortuna Melody Belle Syndicate (up from #52 to #45) and a six-point increase for her sire, Danehill’s son Commands, who has risen 26 places to #48.

The biggest move, though, came from jockey Michael McNab, the week’s joint highest climber worldwide, whose Performance Index benefited to the tune of ten points. He has soared 154 places to #226.

As the picture above shows, it was clearly an important victory for McNab, who is back in New Zealand after an unhappy stint riding in Queensland last year. McNab was on the mare for her first G1 success two years ago, and he has ridden her in her most recent two runs, but he will not be aboard for her next outing - the one-mile G1 Windsor Park Plate back at Hastings on September 21, which she won last year.

Fortuna Syndications Director John Galvin has confirmed that world #42 Opie Bosson, who has been sidelined with a shoulder injury, will renew his partnership with the mare for that race, which is the second leg of the Hawke’s Bay Triple Crown (the Tarzino was the first).

“Opie has declared himself available to ride for us on September 21,” Galvin said. “Opie is the number one stable rider for Te Akau Racing, he is unbeaten on Melody Belle and we are glad to have him back aboard. 

“We are extremely grateful for the fantastic ride that Michael McNab gave her in the Tarzino Trophy in Opie’s absence.” 

McNab had ridden Melody Belle in her indifferent first of the season in the G2 Foxbridge Plate (1200m) at Te Rapa. That effort, combined with an outside barrier draw, saw punters tread warily with the mare on Saturday, installing her as second favourite behind her Te Rapa conqueror, Endless Drama.

Expected to race in a handy position, that plan went out the window when she dwelt slightly at the start. McNab was forced to bide his time near last in a strung-out field as rank outsider Deerfield set up a hectic speed out in front. But McNab didn’t panic as he eased his charge to the outside to track up Endless Drama and Wyndspelle around the home bend before angling for clear running at the 350 metres. Melody Belle let down with a devastating sprint to collar Wyndspelle and Helena Baby with 50m to run as McNab rose high in the irons to celebrate the victory.

“This is just unreal,” McNab said. “With the work that has been put in by the whole Te Akau team, I had a good feeling.” 

He added, “She’s a no-frills type of horse and just a real warhorse.”

Richards praised McNab, who Te Akau Racing boss David Ellis had taken under his wing after the jockey returned from Australia. “It was a no-panic ride,” Richards said.

“A big thank you to Dave [Ellis] for taking Michael under his wing and getting his weight right, helping him with his attitude and keeping positive and I think you can see that in the way he rode today.”

Richards confirmed the mare, who has come out of her weekend race well, would return to Hastings for the Windsor Park Plate before tackling the G1 Livamol Classic (2040m), the final leg of the Hawke’s Bay Triple Crown, on October 5.

Bred by Marie Leicester, Melody Belle was a $57,500 purchase by Ellis from the Haunui Farm draft at the 2016 Premier session at the National Yearling Sale.

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