A long-range plan came to fruition when Aretha (Charm Spirit) returned from the sidelines for a $15 upset victory in Saturday’s Gr. 2 J Swap Contractors Matamata Breeders’ Stakes.
Bred and raced by Greg McCarthy, the daughter of first-season shuttle stallion Charm Spirit (Invincible Spirit) had raced only once before today’s $100,000 fillies’ feature. That was two and a half months ago in the Gr. 2 Wakefield Challenge Stakes at Trentham, in which she ran third behind Aotea Lad and Killin.
Champion trainers Murray Baker and Andrew Forsman set their sights on the Matamata Breeders’ Stakes immediately after that race, and today Aretha was up to the task.
“What she did in the Wakefield was all on ability,” Forsman said after today’s win. “We just wanted to get her first raceday start out of the way, and the fact that she picked up some black type there was a bonus.
“We gave her a freshen-up after that and the Matamata Breeders’ Stakes was always the target. We came off a short run and it wasn’t easy to get her here, but the team at home have done a great job.”
After showing a classy turn of foot to kick through on the inside of the front-running Rainbow Dash at the top of the straight, Aretha faced a real challenge as that rival refused to surrender.
But Aretha was up for the fight, matching everything Rainbow Dash threw at her and claiming a hard-fought victory by a nose. Local filly Aalaalune made up ground out wide to finish third, three-quarters of a length behind the first pair.
“She’s a tough little filly,” winning jockey Jonathan Riddell said. “She had to work when the other filly came back at her, but she was in for the fight. She was very tough and she just dug in. She’s a real racehorse.”
Today was the first time Riddell had ever been on the filly’s back.
Riddell and Forsman hatched a plan to make the most of Aretha’s inside gate.
“It was a great effort, she was very brave,” Forsman said. “Jonathan and I knew we’d be on the rail. We could have tried to come out wide, but we decided to take a punt and stick to the fence. There hasn’t been any rain on the day and we didn’t think the ground was much worse along the rail than anywhere else. Jonathan rode her a treat, stuck to our plan and it came off.”
Click on the following image to watch Aretha win
Forsman has yet to confirm any further plans this season for Aretha.
“Two-year-olds can be a bit fickle, so we’ll just take it one race at a time,” he said. “The main thing is that she’s a Group Two winner now, which is massive for Greg.”
McCarthy, who serves as a New Zealand Thoroughbred Racing representative on the New Zealand Racing Board and is a long-time participant as breeder and owner, took special satisfaction from today’s win.
“To win this race as owner and breeder is a dream result,” he said. “There weren’t many in the field this year who are raced by their breeders.”
Aretha is out of the Stravinsky mare Tsikory, who is a half-sister to Australian Derby winner Fiumicino and a granddaughter of Horlicks.
Aretha became the first southern hemisphere winner and stakes winner for Windsor Park Stud’s Charm Spirit, who has sired 34 winners in his first northern hemisphere crop including one at Group Three level.
“I’ve had a long association with Windsor Park, and especially Steve Till, so to be involved with the first big result in this part of the world for Charm Spirit is a real thrill,” McCarthy said.
Rainbow Dash lost little in her narrow defeat. The Showcasing filly, trained by Jenna Mahoney, had won her only previous start.
Third-placed Aaalaalune is still a maiden after four starts but has finished second in the Listed Splice Construction Stakes, fourth in the Gr. 3 Eclipse Stakes, sixth in the Karaka Million and third today.
The favourite Bavella was checked early in the race and dropped out near the back of the field, making up some ground late in the race for sixth.