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  • Writer's pictureJohn Curtis


SUNDAY: January 21, 2024: HAWKESBURY trainers Blake Ryan and Matt Vella got off to a flyer, winning the first two races with favorites at Kembla Grange yesterday.

And both were understandably relieved, though for entirely different reasons.

At only her second start, Ryan’s three-year-old Santasia ($1.80) took the Super Maiden Plate (1000m) in the style of a filly headed for better things, whilst Vella clinched his first winner in well over two years and in the process got $520,000 yearling buy Battlefield ($1.30) to break through, in the Provincial 2&3YO Maiden Plate (1200m).

Santos filly Santasia, a $32,000 weanling purchase, trialled twice for her original trainer Toby Pracey last year before being given to Ryan to prepare.

“I knew she was good as soon as I got her going,” he said today.

“Lack of race experience contributed to her being narrowly beaten on debut at Gosford last month, and she still has plenty to learn.

“But she is fast filly, and I feel might manage even a bit further than the 1000m, seeing as how she really put away her rivals toward the finish yesterday.

“They raced into a strong headwind and the last 600m was run in 33.50 seconds, so there was plenty of merit in her performance.

“Santasia has pulled up well, and I will probably look to give her another run and perhaps even one of the early autumn fillies’ races for her age, depending on her progress.

“Irrespective, I’m sure she will be even better at her next preparation.”

Santasia (Alysha Collett) began quickly and took up the running, and needed only a couple of taps with whip in the straight to put the result beyond doubt as she surged clear.

Vella was equally pleased not only to get himself back into the winning list after a lengthy sabbatical, but also to see Battlefield shed his maiden status.

The Deep Field three-year-old, raced by a syndicate comprising many of racing’s heavyweights, had two Sydney starts (fifth both times) for leading trainer Chris Waller toward the end of last season before being gelded and Vella was called on to train him.

Battlefield (Jean Van Overmeire) looked like he was going to win easily when he sidled alongside front-runner and eventual runner-up Hellinda ($26) in the straight, but the margin was only slender at the finish.

“I break in and pre-train all Newgate’s colts and Henry Field gave me a job to do with this horse,” Vella said today.

“He was unlucky when narrowly beaten at Wyong at his previous run, and I expected him to win yesterday.

“There’s no doubt he has ability, but it’s a matter of what he wants to do in his races. Jean (Van Ovemeire) felt he was going to win by lengths.

“At least we’ve been able to get him to win, but I’m not sure of his immediate future.

“There is an option for him to be sent to Hong Kong, but also he will be nominated for a couple of races here in the coming weeks.”

Vella trained previously at Hawkesbury, but took a break in 2021 to concentrate on his breaking-in and pre-training business (he also does both for trainer Annabel Neasham).

His previous winner was Never Second at Goulburn in August 2021, and Battlefield’s three recent starts have been his only runners since renewing his licence.

“He is the only horse in racing trim I’ve got at present, but I’m also getting a couple of young horses ready to trial,” he said.

Ryan and Vella’s winners, along with Brad Widdup’s Rosehill Gardens success with Sneaky Paige, took the number prepared by the Hawkesbury training base so far this season to 82.


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