Progressive mare Sassy Merlot made a winning start to her four-year-old season as she dominated proceedings from in front over 1200m on her home track at Matamata.
The Mike Moroney and Pam Gerard-trained daughter of Burgundy had raced against some of the best three-year-olds last season, including finishing second to La Crique in the Gr.3 Desert Gold Stakes (1600m) at Trentham before rounding out her campaign with another runner-up finish against the older mares in the Gr.3 Rotorua Stakes (1400m) in May.
A winning performance over 850m at the Waipa trials at Te Awamutu earlier in the month had her primed for a bold effort on Saturday and she lived up to her looks as she provided Cameron Lammas with an armchair ride throughout.
Lammas, who had earlier scored aboard the Ken and Bev Kelso-trained Divici Belle, had the mare away smartly from her inside barrier draw (1) as she set up a steady speed at the head of proceedings in the rating 75 contest.
Asked for an effort as she rounded the home turn, Sassy Merlot found a good kick to hold out the fast-finishing Fashion Shoot by three quarters of a length, with Fiscal Fun battling on nicely to claim third.
Gerard was delighted with the win and relieved to see her charge jump cleanly from the barrier after blotting her copybook several times during her last preparation due to tardy beginnings.
“It was a good fresh up win although I did think she was the class horse of the field on what she had done last season,” Gerard said.
“She had a huge year with a lot of travelling and some hard races that took a bit of a toll on her.
“I think that contributed to her barrier manners at times, as she likes things her own way and can get pretty niggly in the gates.
“It was great to have Cameron back on board as he is so good in the starting gates. He rode her at the trials and worked out straight away where the issues were and you saw today she just pinged away.”
Gerard will now have a talk with Moroney about where to head with the mare but is keen to keep her on the fresh side as she believes that is where she performs at her best.
“We are in no hurry as there are plenty of nice races for her over the next few months,” she said.
“I definitely think she is best over the shorter distances, especially when she is fresh, so I will be discussing the options with Mike with that in mind.
“Cameron came back in today and said she was absolutely jogging and he never got out of second gear, which is pretty exciting.
“She is bigger and stronger so we will be chasing black type with her.
“If she comes up like I think she can then races like the Railway (Gr.1, 1200m) and Telegraph (Gr.1, 1200m) wouldn’t be out of the question for her.”
Out of the lightly raced Savabeel mare, Saveadance, Sassy Merlot was purchased by Paul Moroney for $24,000 out of the Advantageous Ventures draft during the Book 3 sale at Karaka in 2020 and has now won three of her 12 starts.