It is going to be a blooming spring racing season for racehorse owner Max Whitby, the Sydney Turf Club (STC) director gearing up for a big Melbourne Spring Carnival thanks to the recent success of his Kiwi fillies Scarlett Lady and Dowager Queen.
The star of the two is undoubtedly Savabeel filly Scarlett Lady, the Graeme and Debbie Rogerson-trained three-year-old on the hunt for more elite level success down under following a wonderfully warming winter campaign for her connections.
Scarlett Lady came off a succession of four straight wins back home in New Zealand when she was bought over to Queensland for the Brisbane Winter Carnival.
She hit the headlines after her Aussie race debut, beating home a quality field in the Group 3 The Roses (2020m) at Doomben on May 21.
With ace New Zealand hoop James McDonald in the mount, Scarlett Lady went on to take out the Group 1 Queensland Oaks (2400m) at Eagle Farm on June 4 by a minimum margin of two and a half lengths.
The victory was impressive, her ease and ability leading to immediate comparisons to another star New Zealand mare – Ethereal.
A decade ago the Sheila Laxon-trained Ethereal burst onto the Australian racing scene taking out the same double as Scarlett Lady winning both The Doomben Roses and the Queensland Oaks.
Ethereal was then sent back across the Tasman to prepare to bring her best to that year’s Melbourne Spring Carnival, and her best she did bring.
The stunning runner took out the coveted Caulfield – Melbourne Cups double in 2001, making Laxon the first female trainer to prepare a Melbourne Cup winner.
Like Ethereal, Whitby decided to bypass the Queensland Derby with Scarlett Lady, eager to have her fit and fresh as she attempts to follow in the famous hoofsteps of Ethereal.
“She’s in the paddock and due back Monday week,” Whitby said of Scarlett Lady.
Whitby is happy with his decision to miss the Derby, but still believes Scarlett Lady would have beaten subsequent winner, the fellow Graeme Rogerson-trained Shootoff.
“The Derby was very challenging for us,” Whitby said.
“We made the decision that if bloods weren’t right we wouldn’t run.
“We’re happy, the stable won the Derby anyway.
“The form (of Scarlett Lady) would have stood up very well, but we’re very happy with what we’re doing, we’ve got a good little mare.”
Scarlett Lady is one of the clear ante-post favourites for the $2.5 million Group 1 Caulfield Cup (2400m) on October 15, and is also top of the early odds for the richest handicap race in the world, the $6 million Group 1 Melbourne Cup (3200m) running on the first Tuesday of November at Flemington.
Whitby has confirmed that Scarlett Lady is definitely on way to the Caulfield Cup, but they will wait and see how she handles her first assignment before getting ahead of themselves with dreams of taking out the ‘Loving Trophy’.
“The Caulfield Cup is definitely where we’re going, that’s our first goal,” he said.
“Whatever happens after that will depend on how she pulls up.”
When she resumes, Scarlett Lady will get back on her feet with a first-up run in New Zealand before returning to Australia.
“We’ve got one lined up for her over there, one run and straight to Victoria,” Whitby confirmed.
With Scarlett Lady tackling the Cups, Whitby plans for fellow Savabeel filly Dowager Queen to head towards the famous weight-for-age $3 million Group 1 Cox Plate (2040m) at Moonee Valley on October 22.
A winner of three of her 11 career starts to date, rising three-year-old Dowager Queen had two runs in Brisbane during the winter.
Both produced credible fourth place finishes, firstly to the Gerald Ryan-trained Hot Snitzel in the Group 2 BRC Sire’s Produce Stakes (1400m) and then to Peter Snowden’s Benfica in the Group 1 TJ Smith (1600m).
Although the Cox Plate will be a sharp class increase for Dowager Queen, especially at her age, Whitby has confidence in her ability.
“She’ll carry no weight (in the Cox Plate as a three-year-old filly),” he said.
“Graeme and I have won it in the past.”
The Cox Plate winner Whitby refers to is the sire of Dowager Queen and Scarlett Lady, former champion racehorse Savabeel.
A son of the infamous stallion Zabeel, Savabeel saluted in the 2004 Cox Plate and was the first three-year-old to win the race since the fellow son of Zabeel Octagonal nine years previous in 1995.
Flying Kiwi jockey McDonald, 19, was also aboard Dowager Queen for her runs down under, the season-leading rider in New Zealand ready to take the mount on both her and Scarlett Lady again in the spring.
“He loves both those horses and he’s committed to riding her (Scarlett Lady) for us,” Whitby said of McDonald.
“He’s more than just a jockey, he feels like he’s part of it.”
Well on his way to achieving his goal of becoming one of the world’s most successful and recognised international jockeys like his idol, Italy’s Frankie Dettori, Cambridge-based McDonald has offers galore for rides around the globe.
“Everyone says, why don’t you just go straight to Hong Kong?” McDonald said.
“But it’s not just about going straight to Hong Kong.
“I still enjoy the country life at the moment. I’m only 19.
“It’s a big world out there and to go over to Australia, say, to Sydney, where some of the offers have been, I’m then by myself and I have to start from scratch.
“I would like to think I can get there, but it’s a matter of taking the right opportunities when they com.
“With Scarlett Lady winning the Oaks, there’s been a lot of doors that have opened and it’s just a matter of picking the right one.”
It will be more than just doors opening for McDonald if he becomes a Melbourne Cup-winning jockey this year, something that is not hard to imagine with Scarlett Lady.