By NZ Racing Desk
New Zealand: Bookmakers may be favouring defending champ Avantage in Saturday’s Bonecrusher New Zealand Stakes at Ellerslie but her trainer Jamie Richards is backing history-seeking Melody Belle as the pick of his pair.
Richards will clash the glamour pair in a race each has won in the past two years, favouring 13-time G1 winner Melody Belle over this distance of 2,000 metres (1m2f) as she bids to move ahead of Sunline on her own as NZ’s leading G1 winner. “In my mind, Melody Belle is a little bit better at 2,000m,” Richards said.
Melody Belle touched off Avantage when the pair met over 1m in the Windsor Park Plate at Hastings in October before extending the advantage to 2¾ lengths over Saturday’s in soft ground at the same venue in the Livamol Classic.
“There wasn’t much between them at Hastings over the mile and then Melody Belle was pretty dominant over 2,000m in the last leg,” Richards went on. “I love both horses and they’ve both done a wonderful job but if I’d have to say which I think is going better over 2,000m, I’d say Melody Belle.”
Melody Belle has won a trial at Rotorua since her unplaced run in last month’s Herbie Dyke Stakes at Te Rapa and will be reunited with jockey Troy Harris, who is unbeaten in three starts on the Commands mare.
“Troy is really happy with how she’s moving and how she’s going,” said Richards. “She’s tightened up nicely from the trial and she’ll give them a real shake on Saturday. We’re very pleased with her.
“She was disappointing at Te Rapa but through no fault of her own. She was a little bit flat at the 600m but from there it was race over because she never really got any room.”
A winner of 18 of her 37 starts, Melody Belle is aiming to become New Zealand’s leading winner of G1 races, going one up on champion mare Sunline.
Avantage, eight times a G1 winner herself, is shooting for a fifth straight victory at elite level after success at trips up to 1m the Railway, Telegraph, BCD Group Sprint and the Otaki WFA Classic.
“She’s in really good form but there was no Melody Belle in this race when she won last year,” Richards said. “We’ll just get through Saturday first but we have Australia in the back of our mind for Melody Belle, a farewell tour through Queensland.
“Avantage has had a busy season but we could see her at Te Aroha back to a mile with a month between runs or we could see her in the Coolmore Legacy at Randwick.”
Richards, who has a host of high-profile runners elsewhere on the card in Auckland, will also have his eye on Australia on Saturday with Probabeel, second favourite for the $A5m (£2.77m) All-Star Mile at Moonee Valley.
“She’s been to Moonee Valley for the Cox Plate and the 1,600m is her optimum distance,” said Richards. “She goes into a A$5m race as a really good chance which is really exciting.”