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Tough Aristia shines a light in Oaks

6 min read
Another huge group of owners are celebrating Group 1 success at Flemington after Aristia defied her rivals and arguably her pedigree to win the G1 Kennedy Oaks.

Aristia (Lonhro) provided a career highlight for her owners, trainers and jockey as she proved the toughest filly to win the G1 Kennedy Oaks at Flemington.

Syndicators First Light Racing marked a first Group 1, Mathew Ellerton and Simon Zahra their first Group 1 in seven years and Damian Lane a self-proclaimed biggest thrill of his burgeoning career as a throng of owners celebrated a Flemington Classic win for the second time in a week.

Aristia's success reprised the celebrations of Extra Brut's owners after Saturday's Victoria Derby, with First Light giving 36 shareholders in the horse the experience of a lifetime.

"It's pretty surreal to be honest," First Light Racing's Tim Wilson said. "Seven days ago, she was a maiden, and now we’ve won a Group 2 and a Group 1."

"It's pretty surreal to be honest. Seven days ago, she was a maiden, and now we’ve won a Group 2 and a Group 1." - First Light Racing's Tim Wilson

"To share it with 36 owners is just fantastic. We actually had 40 per cent in her before she debuted and we rang up a few really good owners and said you should jump in this filly."

Among the owners was Perth's Linda Cartwright, who until last Saturday had never been to Flemington, but made the trip to Melbourne twice in a week to watch her star filly prevail.

Cousins Ellerton and Zahra have endured a lean run at the top level since three Group 1 successes in the space of 18 months, including a Golden Slipper S, with Crystal Lily (Stratum), back in 2010-11.

Aristia's connections celebrating her G1 Kennedy Oaks win

Zahra said to get their first-ever Flemington Group 1 winner in one of the most significant staying events held at the famous course was a massive achievement.

"Getting a feature staying winner has been one of those things we wanted to add to our CV," he said. "A lot of people think of us as training only two and three-year-old sprinter-milers and we wanted to change people's thinking."

"Getting a feature staying winner has been one of those things we wanted to add to our CV." - Simon Zahra

"Today we have proven we can train a stayer and win good races with them, so for our CV, it’s been an important win."

Lane's biggest moment

Lane is one of Australia's brightest young talents having won an amazing 10 Group 1 races since the start of 2017, including an ATC Derby.

"This is easily my biggest thrill in racing." - Jockey, Damian Lane

But given the faith that Ellerton and Zahra showed in him when he arrived as a young kid from Western Australia, this was his sweetest success of all.

Damian Lane and Simon Zahra

"This is easily my biggest thrill in racing. Just the elation as I went over the line. I love Matty and Simon, they have been such a big part of not only my career, but my life," he said.

"When I moved to Melbourne, I lived in Matty's home for the first six or seven months and he's always treated me like a family member. I wouldn’t be where I am today without them."

"It's just a massive thrill."

Perry 's search for another Jewel

The Aristia story has its roots at Vinery, through her breeder Greg Perry, who also bred superstar mare Atlantic Jewel (Fastnet Rock).

Aristia's dam Nakaaya (Tiger Hill {Ire}) was bought at the 2008 Melbourne Yearling Sale by Perry's good friend Cliff Brown. She raced in Australia, with five wins from 12 starts for Mick Price, including a G2 win in the Sunline S.

Perry retained her to be bred from under the Greenwich Stud name and after Nakaaya produced Jobodwana (Congrats {USA}), who won a few races for Brown in Singapore, and Zolani (More Than Ready {USA}) , who has been a three-time winner here, it was decided to send her to Lonhro.

Aristia as a yearling

It was hard to believe at that point Perry could be thinking he was planning a Classic winner. Until today, Lonhro has never sired an Oaks or Derby winner in Australia.

She was sold for $80,000 at the 2017 Easter Yearling Sale to First Light Racing and Perry retained a share.

Can she stay?

Zahra admitted that even six weeks' ago, they weren't convinced Aristia could stay, but Wilson and his team at First Light Racing gave the trainers the imprimatur to do what they thought was best.

"The cross roads for her was the Thousand Guineas Prelude. That run had Oaks all over it and Tim and the owners just gave us free rein, said do what you need to do to get her there and we got her here and got the job done," he said.

First Light Racing's Tim Wilson

Given she hadn't even won a race until last Saturday, it is an extraordinary achievement from all involved.

"Tim and the owners just gave us free rein, said do what you need to do to get her there and we got her here and got the job done." - Simon Zahra

Lane positioned Aristia perfectly just off the pace set by Greysful Glamour (Stratum), who would prove the horse to beat in a slugging finish.

With his key rivals well behind him and battling to make ground, Lane made his move at the top of the straight and a thrilling battle with Greysful Glamour evolved.

It was only in the final stages that Aristia showed her superior mettle and got the upper hand, winning by three-quarters of a length, while closing all the time was the outsider Miner's Miss (Rebel Raider), who finished third.

That would have provided the ultimate fairytale for her trainer Paddy Payne and his famous daughter Michelle, who rode the $10,000 purchase.

Weir challenge fails to materialise

The favourite Amphitrite (Sebring) was pulled up over the line after finishing last, but jockey Craig Williams was just being cautious with the G1 Thousand Guineas winner.

"It was really disappointing, she had the right form, she was the best horse in the race," said Williams.

"It was really disappointing, she had the right form, she was the best horse in the race." - Craig Williams on Amphitrite

"We got in to a lovely position, we had the right horses to take us in to the race, she came under pressure before we straightened, and she wanted to lean in, which is normal for her, I know her really well."

The finishing stages of the G1 Kennedy Oaks

"I put her under full pressure and she put in a couple of short strides so her welfare had to come first and so I eased her out of the race."

John Allen's assessment of the other fancied runner, Verry Elleegant (NZ) (Zed {NZ}), who ran seventh, was fairly blunt.

"You can't win a Group 1 race when you pull for the first mile, she just never really got into a rhythm and the slow tempo didn't help either. Start from scratch next prep and hopefully she can learn to do things properly," Allen said.