YEAR: 2007


Megan & Brendon McLellan
News that It's Ella has been retired might be a tad premature. Former trainer Brendon McLellan, whose wife Megan co-owns the mare, says there is actually a chance of It's Ella returning next year to defend the two Addington titles that she won so brilliantly over the last two Friday nights.

"We haven't ruled it out," McLellan said. "She is definitely out for the rest of the season, and she will be served early in the Spring. But if something were to happen, like, she didn't get in foal, we might bring her up for those mares' races again. Either way we will know closer to the time, and we will let her tell us," he said.

If last Friday's $100,000 PGG Wrightson NZ Breeders Stakes does end up being the last time we see It's Ella on the racetrack though, what a way it was to go out! Just like she did a week earlier, It's Ella displayed her customary ability to get out of the gate and push forward to secure a handy spot, yet she still had enough in reserve to sprint again and get away from her opposition. And if it was her swansong, It's Ella ended her career in exactly the same way as she started it - with a win.

It was late in January two years ago when a little Washington VC-Just Ella 3-year-old filly made her first official trial appearance, at Gore, romping away with her qualifier to win by three lengths. Coming home in 58.9 that day, she recorded 2:49.9 for the 2200 stand, nearly nine seconds inside the required time! Seven days later she debuted at Invercargill, winning by an equally impressive margin and in quick time again; It's Ella had announced he arrival.

"Yeah, then she ran into Mainland Banner at her second start and finished fourth," McLellan said with a smile, adding that it was "quite a good crop of 3-year-old fillies that year. She had always shown ability but didn't do too much as a 2-year-old, we didn't ask her to. And she only won a couple of races in that first season, she was always just in behind the good ones. But she had niggling problems all the way through though too, and jarred up a lot, and we had to keep backing off her every three or four starts."

Counteracting these ongoing problems was the main reason why the McLellans put in a swimming pool this time last year, and then the decision to transfer It's Ella to David and Catherine Butt soon afterwards - where she'd have access to a pool, the beach, and more racing opportunities - proved a masterstroke, and was the turning point in the mare's career. In 16 starts from her new home, It's Ella recorded five wins, five placings and just over $167,000 in stakes - more than 72% of her total career earnings. And there were many Group race highlights...third in the Ashburton Flying Stakes, third in the NZ Cup and second to Waitfornoone in the Queen of Hearts in Auckland, not to mention finishing her current campaign with a Group 2/ Group 1 double at Addington.

In total, the Washingto VC mare won 13 of her 42 starts, and in all fairness she should also earn the title of Aged Pacing Mare for 2006/07. "Her performance in the Cup was definitely the biggest highlight at the time," McLellan said. "It was a dream result; for us, it was like winning it. And then to win both these mares, it's amazing."

Although retirement wasn't really talked about, It's Ella's connections knew the broodmare paddock had been drawing ever nearer since her second in the Queen of Hearts. "She won a trial when she first got to Auckland but pulled up a bit lame after it, so we knew she wasn't at her best for the event," McLellan said. "Her problems flared up after that race; basically, she has been a day-to-day proposition ever since. She seemed to be fine when she returned to Canterbury, but the other night Ricky (May) said she felt a bit scratchy on the way back from the birdcage. And she was lame when we put her on the float."

While one door may be closing, another one is definitely ajar, and the McLellans and co-owners Jim and Irene Holland have something just as special to look forward to. Their association with the retired Mokoreta couple stems back to when McLellan was just starting out. Boyden's Beau (5 wins) was the first he trained for them, and others since have included Anna Patron (5 wins) and her half-sister Shania Patron (7 wins, $178,000). "Jimmy and I have been breeding from about three mares together for a few years, Shania Patron was one of our first," McLellan said. "Unfortunately we had to put It's Ella's mother (Just Ella) down, but we are pretty excited about what lies ahead. I think it's natural to get more of an attachment to the foals if you have had so much to do with the mare - especially one like her. And we are not sure what stallion she will go to yet, but it will definitely be a commercial one."

Credit: John Robinson writing in HRWeekly 8Feb07

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