Champion sprinting mare Levante returned to the scene of her inaugural Group One victory on Saturday and made it back-to-back triumphs in the Gr.1 JR & N Berkett Telegraph (1200m) after another titanic struggle in the home straight.
Last year its was subsequent dual Australian Group One winner Roch ‘N’ Horse that went within a nose of victory against the Ken and Bev Kelso-trained daughter of Proisir, while this year it was last start Gr.1 Sistema Railway (1200m) runner-up Babylon Berlin who went to war with her in the closing stages.
After travelling sweetly outside pacemaker Packing Rockstar, rider Kozzi Asano had Babylon Berlin cuddled up in front with 300m to run as he waited for the finishing charge of Levante.
He wasn’t disappointed as Levante burst into the clear wider out for Ryan Elliot and launched her sprint which quickly took her up to the leader.
The pair went head-to-head for the final 250m with Levante gaining the upper hand in the last few strides to take the victory by a neck with outsider Iffndoubtgetout taking a meritorious third a further five lengths back.
An emotional Ken Kelso paid tribute to his charge along with his wife Bev, who has been battling ill health of late, but managed to make the long trip to Trentham from their Matamata home.
“She is a very tough mare who doesn’t lay down and tries her hardest every time,” Kelso said.
“She wants to give you a heart attack every year but she is just so tough.
“It’s very special that Bev came as she hasn’t been that well, so to make the trip down here is very special.”
Bev Kelso was in awe of the strength of the five-year-old who has now won at the elite level on three occasions.
“That was just huge as every time she goes out, she is just such a trier,” she said.
“She never goes a bad race and she sure does make it exciting.”
Levante is now likely to have a few days in the paddock before returning to Te Rapa on February 11 to try and defend her title in the Gr.1 BCD Group Sprint (1400m).
Elliot was also brimming with pride after securing the win aboard Levante.
“It was a little bit different this year as we had to sit back on the inside and then make our luck,” he said.
“Once she got out into the clear and gets rolling she is really just so strong through the line.
“I didn’t think I was going to get past the other mare (Babylon Berlin) at the 100m, but she (Levante) just has that ability to dig deep and find a way.
“This is great for me to win another Group One and I’m just so glad I can do it for Bev and Ken and all the team.”
The race proved a triumph for Levante’s breeder Scott Williams, who also features in the ownership of runner-up Babylon Berlin.
Raced by a syndicate that includes Ancroft Stud’s Philip Brown and his wife Catherine, along with former Waikato Racing Club Chief Executive Tony Enting and his wife Mary, Levante has now taken her career record to eleven wins from 19 starts and over NZ$1 million in prizemoney.