IN Racing
Legarto shooting to add her name to Matamata Cup honour roll
Ken Kelso is taking inspiration from a turf legend as he prepares Group One-winning mare Legarto for Saturday's Listed Team Wealleans Matamata Cup (1600m).
Aidan Rodley, LOVERACING.NZ News Desk | October 05, 2023
Legarto will contest the Listed Matamata Cup (1600m). (Bruno Cannatelli)

Matamata trainer Ken Kelso is taking inspiration from a turf legend as he prepares Group One-winning mare Legarto for Saturday's Listed Team Wealleans Matamata Cup (1600m).

Kelso, who trains in partnership with his wife Bev, opted to scratch Legarto on the morning of last Saturday's Gr.1 Arrowfield Stud Plate (1600m) at Hastings, preferring not to risk the Proisir four-year-old mare on a heavy track.

Instead, he revised his focus to this weekend's hometrack feature for Legarto, who would join a sparkling honour roll of past winners if she was successful on Saturday.

Among those past winners was Waverley Star, who romped home by seven lengths in the 1986 Matamata Cup at his lead-up to his gallant defeat at the hands of Bonecrusher in the Gr.1 Cox Plate (2040m) at Moonee Valley, a race that became known as the 'race of the century'.

"I was told yesterday that DJ (trainer Dave O'Sullivan) had used this race as a lead-up to the Cox Plate so we're hoping it works out alright for us too," Kelso said.

However, should either Legarto or key rival La Crique win the Matamata Cup, they would become the first established Group One winner to triumph in the handicap.

Waverley Star, Mickey's Town and Rodin all went on to win Group One races after their Matamata Cup wins, while a notable placegetter was Ethereal in 2001. 

Ethereal was already a winner of the Gr.1 Queensland Oaks (2400m) at Eagle Farm and two starts after the Matamata Cup she won the Gr.1 Caulfield Cup (2400m) and then added the Gr.1 Melbourne Cup (3200m) at Flemington.

Ethereal finished third to Platonic, a mare trained by Matamata's Graham Richardson, who rode Waverley Star in his final gallop leading up to his Matamata Cup win. He has gone on to win two more Matamata Cups, with Atom Cat successful in 2010 and Paisley Park winning last year. Paisley Park returns to defend his title on Saturday.

But it's clear that Legarto is the horse to beat, TAB bookmakers installing her a $1.70 favourite, ahead of La Crique at $6 and Aquacade at $8.50.

Legarto was favourite for last weekend's Arrowfield Stud Plate before the Kelsos withdrew her, a decision that sits comfortably with them five days later.

"I'm just very glad I made the call on Saturday. I was sweating up to the first race when the rain hadn't come but all the forecasts said it was going to come," Kelso said.

"I made the call early rather than subject her to the big trip down there. It gets pretty hard on horses – you go down there and run on a heavy track and then you subject them to a four or five-hour trip home. It can really set you back, so I'm really pleased we made that decision."

With the Simon and Katrina Alexander-trained La Crique also accepting for the Matamata Cup and taking the benchmark 60kg, Legarto gets into the race with 58.5kg, a weight that has her neatly placed in the handicap in a race that will be her final leadup to the $A10 million Golden Eagle (1500m) at Rosehill on November 4.

"It's all worked out really well. From this race, it's four weeks to the Golden Eagle. She'll be at home in the paddock an hour after the race and she won't have had that gutbuster like she would have if we'd run on Saturday," Kelso said.

"We've got a four-week period where she can have an exhibition gallop or a trial. We'll decide that after the race."

Kelso reported that Legarto had continued to train well as she prepared for a possible seventh win at just her ninth start.

"She's very bright. She had a good hit-out on Tuesday morning on the course proper against the rail along with Belle Of The Ball and she worked very well," he said.

"They worked over 1200m in 1:16 and came home (the last 600m) in about 35 and a half (seconds). The track was a little bit off so that was nice work.

"We're very happy with her. I thought her work leading up to Hawke's Bay was excellent and yesterday's work on the course proper was very good so she's pretty right."

Ken and Bev Kelso Legarto A$10 million Golden Eagle Listed Matamata Cup