Ritchie celebrates birthday with surreal Oaks quinella Sat, 17 Mar 2012

Dennis Ryan
Artistic (Michael Coleman) stretches her nose out to down stablemate Zurella (Jason Waddell) in the New Zealand Oaks.
Artistic (Michael Coleman) stretches her nose out to down stablemate Zurella (Jason Waddell) in the New Zealand Oaks.
Zacinto Stallion 2014

Shaune Ritchie gave himself a birthday present to treasure when he saddled up Artistic and Zurella to fight out a cliff-hanger finish to the final classic of the season, the Wellfield New Zealand Oaks at Trentham today.

The Cambridge’s trainer’s day had begin ominously when he produced first starter Saturn Rock to win the opening race in the colours made famous by Bonecrusher, the champion galloper who he had strapped as a teenager in the 1980s.

Ritchie has long since earned his stripes as a trainer, with his major wins including the 2010 New Zealand Oaks, but today’s Artistic-Zurella quinella, with a just nose separating the pair, has topped them all.

“When I won the first in the Bonecrusher colours I thought to myself what a big day it might become, but I never imagined it turning out like this. It’s unbelievable, surreal and a whole lot more,” said the 42-year-old.

Ritchie is a third generation trainer from a line that began in the 1950s with his late grandfather Merv Ritchie, whose many big wins included the 1963 New Zealand Oaks (when it was raced at Riccarton) with Blyton.

“Straight after the race the first person I rang was Dad (Frank) and I said to him wouldn’t The Chief (his grandfather) be proud of what we’ve done?”

Ritchie confessed that he rated Zurella’s chances in today’s race well ahead of her stablemate, a view shared by punters who sent her out favourite while last start winner Artistic was let go at odds of nearly 18-to-one.

“Zurella’s chances weren’t helped when she copped a bad bump with a round to go, but in fairness to Artistic she fronted up and did the job like the professional racehorse she is. She’s just a sweetheart of a horse.”

Sharing in Ritchie’s enjoyment of the quinella in the $400,000 race was Rick Williams, manager of The Oaks Stud, where both fillies were bred. They now race in the colours of the Cambridge nursery’s Queensland-based owner Dick Karreman.

“This is just huge for us,” Williams said. “Personally, this is the greatest moment of my life in breeding and racing and it’s great for Dick, he puts so much into this industry.

“When I saw them coming down the straight I didn’t care, but it’s nice that the Darci Brahma filly won.”

Darci Brahma, whose most memorable win was his scintillating 2007 Telegraph Handicap victory at Trentham over the Karreman-owned and bred Seachange, now stands at The Oaks Stud. The win by Artistic marked his first as a stallion at Group One level.

Much of the credit for Artistic’s win belonged to her jockey Michael Coleman, who notched his first New Zealand Oaks after giving the medium sized bay an economical run tucked in behind the pace.

“I thought Zurella had the race won when she came alongside, but my filly actually found some more in the last 100 metres,” Coleman said. “It was a gutsy effort.”

Quintessential put up a big effort to finish late into third after being in the rear until the turn, with Post Restante and Joy’s Choice next to finish. 

The major disappointment was Planet Rock, who had a rocky run in the early stages before rider Damian Browne elected to take her forward to lead with 1200 metres to run. She was still in front on the turn but under sufferance and was eased down to tail the field in.

Despite that outcome, Planet Rock retained her lead to take out the 2011-12 New Zealand Bloodstock Filly of the Year series with 26 points from Zurella (21), Capital Diamond (15), Artistic (13.5) and Quintessential (13).