Levante’s Sydney autumn carnival mission has got off to the right start with a smooth trans-Tasman flight ahead of her campaign opener in next Saturday’s Gr. 1 George Ryder Stakes (1500m).
Trainers Ken and Bev Kelso have left the quadruple Group One winner in the trusty hands of long-time employee Megan Winter, the regular rider of Levante and fellow high-profile stablemate Legarto in routine trackwork at their Matamata base.
The Kelsos were relieved to get a call from Winter early on Sunday afternoon telling them that Levante had arrived at expat Richard and Judy Collett’s Warwick Farm stable in excellent shape.
“I loaded her on the float to the airport at 4.30 this morning and Megan rang at 1.30 this afternoon to say she had arrived and was a happy horse,” Ken Kelso said.
“That’s nine hours from stable to stable, which is as good as you could expect, so that’s a good start.”
Levante, who won the Gr. 1 El Cheapo Cars WFA Classic (1600m) at Otaki two weeks ago, did her final piece of serious work with regular local raceday rider Ryan Elliot in the saddle on Saturday morning.
“Ryan was happy to come across and give us a further line on her,” Kelso said, “and it was good to hear a good report from him.
“She headed across in the right condition and she’ll only need a bit of a hitout on Wednesday ahead of the weekend.
“It’s a big help to get stabling out at Warwick Farm with Richard and Judy, plus we’ve got Andrew Calder available to ride her if we need him.
“I’m planning to head over on Friday, but Megan knows what she’s doing and everything else is organised.”
Calder, who is married to the Colletts’ daughter Natasha, resumed his career recently after an injury-enforced layoff, and to date has finished second, third and fourth in three rides for his father-in-law.
Levante will be ridden in the George Ryder by another expat, Mick Dee, who rode Levante in her two fourth placings at Flemington last year and also partnered Legarto in her stunning win in the Gr. 1 Australian Guineas (1600m) at Flemington last weekend.
Dee’s massive season continued at Rosehill on Saturday when he partnered the Chris Waller-trained lightweight Espiona to a narrow win in the Gr. 1 Coolmore Classic (1500m).
Besides Levante, he will also continue his association with his Gr. 1 Blue Diamond Stakes winner Little Brose in the Gr. 1 Golden Slipper Stakes (1200m).
Kelso is relaxed at the prospect of Levante coming up against the likes of Godolphin’s star performer Anamoe and the Waller-trained Fangirl in the George Ryder.
“That’s the race we decided to kick off her campaign and you can’t let horses like Anamoe scare you off,” he said.
“We could have dodged Jacquinot (with Legarto) in the Australian Guineas but we didn’t, and besides, we’d still be delighted to run second to Anamoe.”
Levante holds entries for the A$4 million Gr.1 Doncaster Mile and A$1 million Gr.1 Queen of the Turf Stakes, both over 1600m, at Randwick on April 1 and April 8 respectively.
“All going to plan we’re more likely to run in the Queen of the Turf,” Kelso said. “The three-week gap between races suits better and it’s likely to be a smaller field than the Doncaster.”
Kelso reports that Legarto, who arrived back from Melbourne on Tuesday after her Flemington heroics, is now in the spelling paddock for six to eight weeks, with plans yet to be confirmed for her spring campaign.
“She’s gone out early and will be able to make the most of this good autumn weather, then we’ll get her back in and just potter along with her while we work out a programme.”
The Proisir filly is already guaranteed one important award to go with a three-year-old season of five wins from six starts and stakes of more than $1 million.
She holds a 12-point lead over Polygon on the New Zealand Bloodstock Filly of the Year table, and with that filly now in Sydney and the last leg of the series, the Gr. 1 Al Basti Equiworld Dubai New Zealand Oaks (2400m), scheduled for Saturday, Legarto cannot be beaten for the title.