IN Racing
Legarto a class above in Aotearoa Classic Preview
“It was good for her to come here today and have a look around Ellerslie. She’s still on her way up, and this will clean her up nicely. I think she’ll be peaking at the right time.”
Richard Edmunds, LOVERACING.NZ News Desk | January 14, 2024
Legarto cruises to an impressive victory in Sunday’s Elsdon Park Aotearoa Classic Preview (1400m) at Ellerslie. Photo: Kenton Wright (Race Images)

Two Group Ones at Trentham and the eagerly anticipated reopening of Ellerslie provided plenty of potential highlights across a blockbuster weekend of racing, but top-class mare Legarto towered above all other talking points with a commanding performance in Sunday’s Elsdon Park Aotearoa Classic Preview (1400m).

The dual Group One winner was a class above her six rivals at the new and improved Ellerslie, producing a dazzling turn of foot that sent a clear warning to her prospective opponents in the inaugural $1 million Elsdon Park Aotearoa Classic (1600m) at the same venue on January 27.

Sunday’s race marked Legarto’s first raceday appearance since an unlucky run in the Golden Eagle (1500m) in Sydney in early November. She had won a trial at Tauranga on January 2, and she was sent out as a $1.60 favourite at Ellerslie against a talented cast of rivals that included reigning Horse of the Year Sharp ‘N’ Smart and fellow high-class four-year-olds Wild Night and Sacred Satono. In the end, Legarto was in a league of her own.

The daughter of Proisir settled in fifth spot for regular rider Ryan Elliot and was poised to pounce coming up to the home turn, looming large just behind Packing Rockstar, Sacred Satono and Wild Night.

Sacred Satono quickened well in the straight and took a clear lead, but then Elliot pushed the button on Legarto. She swept past Sacred Satono and sailed away, opening up a winning margin of two lengths and stopping the clock at 1:21.84.

“It’s good that she’s starting to ping out of the gates a little bit better now and put herself in her races,” Elliot said. “She hit a little flat spot again, which she sometimes does, but the way she sprinted off that track in the straight was a great feeling. The turn of foot was instant.

“It was good for her to come here today and have a look around Ellerslie. She’s still on her way up, and this will clean her up nicely. I think she’ll be peaking at the right time.”

The TAB now rates Legarto a $1.60 favourite for the Aotearoa Classic, with the Australian-trained Holymanz a distant second favourite at $6. The only other runner in single figures is the $8 chance Desert Lightning, who made a good impression in an exhibition gallop with star three-year-old Crocetti at Ellerslie on Sunday.

Sacred Satono and Sharp ‘N’ Smart, who finished second and third in Sunday’s Aotearoa Classic preview, are rated $16 and $10 chances respectively for the main event.

Legarto was bought by Ancroft Stud for $90,000 from Highline Thoroughbreds’ draft in Book 2 of Karaka 2021. Her 11-start career has now produced eight wins, a placing and just under $1.3 million in stakes, headed by spectacular victories in last season’s Gr.1 New Zealand 1000 Guineas (1600m) and Gr.1 Australian Guineas (1600m).

Legarto is trained by Ken and Bev Kelso, who were delighted with Sunday’s dress rehearsal for the Aotearoa Classic.

“That was very good,” Kelso said. “Once she got into the clear in the straight, she was really strong. It probably helped her that Sacred Satono gave her something to chase, because she tends to only do what she has to.

“We’re very pleased and I think we’re on track for the million-dollar race here on Karaka Millions night. She’ll have an easy week now, and then we’ll ramp up again after that. It’s been a trouble-free preparation so far, everything’s gone to plan, and let’s hope that continues.”

Legarto Ken and Bev Kelso Proisir Ryan Elliot Elsdon Park Aotearoa Classic Sacred Satono Sharp 'N' Smart