A promise made to their late son combined with determination for their stable star to prove herself against Australia’s best is ample incentive for Kiwi couple Katrina and Simon Alexander ahead of La Crique’s big mission on the opening day of the Melbourne Cup carnival.
Two weeks after a stunning win in the Gr.1 Arrowfield Stud Plate (1600m) at Matamata, La Crique is the clear favourite for Saturday’s Gr.1 Empire Rose Stakes (1600m) at Flemington.
Her rise to the top echelon of New Zealand gallopers has been one of the feel-good stories of spring racing, albeit tinged with sadness for the Alexander family and close friends.
For five years racing took a back seat while the Alexanders’ son Jackson battled melanoma cancer, which had been diagnosed when in his late teens.
Their efforts, which included travelling to Australia for specialist treatment, proved to be in vain as Jackson succumbed in mid-2019, just a fortnight before his 23rd birthday.
Shortly before passing away, the young man known by the nickname ‘Jooky’ had made a special request of his mother – that she honour his memory by reviving her training career.
Thus, in 2020 the Alexanders returned to Matamata, from where Katrina had originally made her mark with more than 100 wins headed by Honor Babe’s Gr.1 Sydney Cup (3200m) in 2003.
With Simon Alexander officially joining the partnership two years ago, the stable has re-established itself with 20 wins from 114 starters, and now another Australian challenge beckons.
The first Group One winner for her Rich Hill Stud-based sire Vadamos, La Crique is out of Destiny Cove, who was Katrina Alexander’s last winner before her five-year hiatus.
Destiny Cove was raced by the Cassin Family Trust, also the breeders of La Crique who races in the ownership of John Cassin and his wife Jan.
They have shared in the Alexander family’s journey, adding to the significance of La Crique’s home-track victory in the Arrowfield Stud Plate a fortnight ago.
“Yes, it was a great result and for us all to be together to savour it,” said Katrina Alexander with understandable feeling. “I’m sure Jooky was there too, looking down and enjoying it just as much as we were.”
La Crique landed in Melbourne last Wednesday and Alexander reports that she has settled in well at her temporary base on the Mornington Peninsula.
“We decided she would be better off away from the hustle and bustle of Flemington and I’m happy with the way she has settled in here. It’s more like what she’s used to at home,” Alexander said.
“She’s bright and pretty full of herself, which is her. My job is just to keep things ticking over.
“I’m absolutely happy with the way her programme has worked out lately after a mucky spring and the weather we were having to deal with.
“As it turned out she was spot-on for the Arrowfield and the break between races is exactly what she needs.
“She puts everything into her races and takes a week or so to get through it, so the timing is good ahead of what we’ve come here for.
“At some stage we had to take the plunge and head to Australia; this was the ideal timing and a mile around Flemington fits perfectly.”
Another factor in La Crique’s favour is having star jockey James McDonald locked in for the Empire Rose Stakes ride.
“We got a call from James’s agent soon after the Arrowfield and the booking was confirmed last Monday, so we’re pretty happy with that,” Alexander said.
“This will be the first time he’s ridden for us, but I’ve known James a long time, right back to when he and our daughter Samantha were kids competing against each other in the pony show hunter ring at the Horse of the Year.”
There’s also an element of unfinished business for the Alexanders to take care of at Flemington on Saturday.
Following her Sydney Cup win in 2003, Honor Babe was set for the Melbourne Cup, but had to be withdrawn from the big race due to jarring up in the Caulfield Cup when finishing eighth to Mummify.
“The Caulfield track was very hard that year and she didn’t come out of it too well,” Alexander said.
“We tried to get her to Flemington but in the end we had to pull her out three days before the Cup, so yes, it would be nice to turn that around.”