Ortensia produced a withering final burst to win the Group 1 Nunthorpe Stakes sprint by a neck at York last night.
Trainer Paul Messara’s meticulous race planning again played a key role in Ortensia’s third major International sprint win, overnight, in the Nunthorpe Stakes at York on ground which the trainer feared would be too soft for the remarkable mare.
Ortensia produced a withering final burst to win the Group 1 sprint by a neck – to again deny local hope Spirit Quartz who was also second behind her in the King George at Goodwood. Spirit Quartz is trained by Robert Cowell whom Messara says is ‘one of his best mates’.
‘I feel for Robert but this is absolutely fantastic,’ Messara said after Ortensia was able to win after most, the trainer, included had given up on her mid-race, so great a start did she concede.
The mare, somewhat unheralded before 2012 and who had the Group 1 Galaxy of 2010 taken from her under former trainer Tony Noon, has now matched the deeds of the remarkable Takeover Target in her tally of international wins.
This win followed her victories earlier this year in the Al Quoz Sprint in Dubai and in the King George at Goodwood. Takeover Target won Group 1’s in Singapore and Japan and was also successful, of course, in the King’s Stand – then a Group 2 – at Royal Ascot.
And this win, in no small part, came down to Messara’s attention to detail and repeated walking of the track in the lead-up to the race. He and Craig Williams plotted a course in Dubai which ensured they were in the fast part of the track and here Messara instructed William Buick to head to the far side rail which had been avoided for most of the week.
‘I’m not sure how much better it was hard against that rail but I know the ground there was unmarked, largely untouched and we had to go there. It was either far left or far right,’ said Messara whose achievements with this mare ought not be undersold.
Not that everything went entirely to plan. ‘I was going to murder William (Buck) with about two and a half furlongs to go. I thought she was too far back. I was feeling sick at that stage, slightly more optimistic at about the 300 (metres) and then started to think she might be a winning hope inside the 150 (metres), ‘ Messara said.
‘But even then she had to produce some finish and that’s what she did. William (Buick) gave her a crack and she really responded. What a huge finish, she’s a great mare. It’s amazing what she’s done. The travel, it’s telling on everybody including her but she just keeps responding.’
Messara said that he thought the track was close to heavy by Australian standards when he walked it on Thursday. ‘I wasn’t bullish. I was super happy with her but I thought the ground might be too soft, even after we had a reasonable night. But at least it had improved a bit by this afternoon. It was on the cusp of what she can handle. But she’s still so much better on top of the ground so I couldn’t be super confident.
‘I couldn’t believe it when the rain came yesterday. Then I though we had no chance but she’s just done such a fantastic job. It’s fabulous. An amazing feeling. Even in the run you couldn’t be sure she’d get there but what a mare she is, what ride she’s given us.’
Messara, who has travelled back and forth from Australia to the UK three times in recent months, said the original plan had not been to campaign her for so long in Europe but now says the ride might not yet have come to an end.
‘We may go to Haydock,’ he said immediately after the race referring to the Sprint Cup on 8 September, ‘but she’ll tell us. We’ll see how she pulls up. The bottom line is looking after her as she’s looked after us so well.’
The trainer said that Ortensia will return to Australia in September to have ‘a deserved spring spell’ before a likely autumn campaign.
Rival trainer and friend Cowell and Spirit Quartz’s rider Frankie Dettori were among the first to congratulate Messara. ‘When I came to England in 2000, I worked for a number of trainers and spent a bit of time with Robert,’ Messara explained, ‘and we’ve become the best of mates. He’s like a brother to me.’
Winning jockey Buick was delighted with his success and taken with the Aussie mare. ‘They went very fast early and I was happy for a little cover. She’s got such a great finish. I wasn’t worried even when we were well back and at the furlong marker (200m) I thought she had them covered,’ Buick said.
By Steve Moran