IN Racing
In-form Levante to take on Australian stars
Levante is set to star in one of Australia’s premier short course events.
NZ Racing Desk | February 24, 2022
Levante. Photo: Peter Rubery

Levante has established herself as New Zealand’s pre-eminent sprinter this season and will now be given the opportunity to star in one of Australia’s premier short course events.

The multiple Group One winner’s next appearance has been confirmed as the Gr.1 Newmarket Handicap (1200m) at Flemington on March 12.

Trainers Ken and Bev Kelso and Levante’s ownership group are undertaking the hit and run mission with eyes wide open and in the light of limited domestic options for the daughter of Proisir.

“The owners and ourselves want to have a crack and we know the enormity of the task with the quality she will be facing, but she’s earned it and we’ll see where we’re at,” Ken Kelso said.

Early nominations for the A1.5 million Newmarket include the Chris Waller-trained stars of Nature Strip and Home Affairs, rising star Marabi, defending champion Zoutori, Masked Crusader, Wild Ruler and the New Zealand-bred Lost And Running.

“We are under no illusions that it is a big task, but the owners are keen and I think she deserves a crack at it,” Kelso said.

“She has a great temperament and is a great eater, she is a pleasure to have anything to do with.” 

Recent discussions with the Victoria Racing Club about Levante’s likely weight provided further encouragement to make the trip.

“She will fly over on the Wednesday before the Newmarket and the handicapper tells me she will get around 53.5kgs,” Kelso said. 

“It’s a good opportunity to get her away and find out which future direction we may take. There is nothing more to prove in New Zealand and we would like to give her trip over to Melbourne now with the idea of bringing her back again in the spring for the fillies and mares races. 

“We contemplated going to Sydney for the Coolmore Classic (Gr.1, 1500m) but it is a handicap and she would have got 57.5 or 58kgs off a 51kg minimum and that race is traditionally won by lower weighted horses. 

“She’s got herself to an awkward position in the ratings as far as handicaps go, but she gets into the Newmarket well because of the quality of horses in it.

“No rider has been booked yet, we’ll wait and see where everyone is going and they won’t make a commitment until after the big sprint at Caulfield on Saturday. We’ll be able to confirm a rider next week.”

Kelso was referring to the Gr.1 Oakleigh Plate (1100m), which will feature Ciaron Maher and David Eustace’s undefeated favourite Marabi up against the likes of Wild Ruler, Minhaaj and Away Game.

Levante has been in dazzling form in recent months with Group One victories in the BCD Sprint (1400m) and Telegraph Handicap (1200m) off the back of a resuming runner-up finish in the Gr.1 Railway (1200m).

The five-year-old will, however, make one more domestic race day appearance before her Australian venture.

“She will have an exhibition gallop at Matamata this Saturday and then she is just going over for the Newmarket to test the waters, to give her a trip away,” Kelso said.

While it is a venture into the unknown down the straight six at Flemington, Kelso has taken heart from Levante’s performances at home.

“It’s not too dissimilar to Trentham and she obviously handles that very well,” he said.

Bred by Scott Williams, Levante was foaled down at Ancroft Stud by Philip Brown, who subsequently purchased her privately and put together the ownership group which includes his wife Catherine, long-time friend Tony Enting and his wife Mary, former touring golf professional Mark Tapper and the estate of the late Michael Stedman.

Levante Gr.1 Newmarket Handicap Ken and Bev Kelso Ken Kelso Proisir Chris Waller Nature Strip Home Affairs Marabi Zoutori Masked Crusader Lost And Running Ciaron Maher David Eustace Minhaaj Away Game Scott Williams Ancroft Stud Tony Enting