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FEATURE RACE COMMENT

 

YEAR: 2007

It's Ella with co-trainer Catherine Butt
It's Ella used petrol early to gain the lead before handing up to stablemate Gail Devers. The latter assumed control throughout the 1950m and soon it came down to a battle of the Butt team in the Group Two race.

Gail Devers fought bravely after setting the terms but soon succumbed to It's Ella despite setting up a blistering final 400m of 27 seconds, who went on to win by one length impressively. Tosti Girl filled third place five lengths from the winner.

In officially slushy conditions the 1950m mobile was completed in 2.25.3, with a mile rate of 1.59.8 and final 800m in 58.1 seconds.

A five-year-old Southland mare, It's Ella has gone from strength to strength over the past seven months, winning seven races and over $130,000.

Owned by breeders Irene and James Holland, and wife of the original trainer Brendon McLellan, Megan McLellan. It was decided to place It's Ella with top trainers David and Catherine Butt for their mare's Canterbury campaigns.

In her Addington debut she ran a stout third to Chief Red Cloud, before turning the tables on him a month later. She then showed she was ready for a New Zealand Cup tilt when performing strongly without much luck in the Hannon Memorial and Fitness Canterbury Classic then placed third to Flashing Red and Mainland Banner in a world record time at Ashburton.

But it was her gallant third in the $500,000 New Zealand Trotting Cup to the Australian duo Flashing Red and Cobbity Classic that cemented It's Ella's position in the open ranks.


Credit: Harness Racing New Zealand

 

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 races...wow, 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

 

YEAR: 2008

CADUCEUS CLUB OF CANTERBURY NZ PREMIER MARES CHAMPIONSHIP

It's Ella saved the best 'til last. The last 50 metres of her event on Friday night, that is; the last 50 metres of her racetrack career.

Because it was that precise moment - after four years of being in training, dozens of miles along the beach, countless hours in the pool, and 53 trips to the races - that her troublesome near-side front leg said 'enough is enough'. Ricky May said he felt It's Ella wobble a quarter of a furlong from home...despite the fact that Foreal was still in hot pursuit, and not to mention the energy-sapping run she'd had to endure, It's Ella gritted her teeth and stayed in her gait to the line.

It's almost like she knew where the finish was too, as once she'd passed the post she let go and rolled into a gallop. Maybe it was because her owners were there to see her, perhaps she wanted to prove for one last time that she could start from a horror draw and still beat the best mares in commission; whichever, it was a performance that personified courage in every sense of the word.

On this occasion It's Ella didn't just blast out and take the lead like many would've expected. There were a couple drawn closer in than had their own plans and gunned out early, so much so that even main danger Foreal was beaten in the jostle for prominent positions, and It's Ella hadn't been any better off than three-wide before finally crossing to the pilot seat with a lap to travel. Foreal and Anthony Butt had kept her out there when May hade his move in front of the grandstand, actions which Butt had to justify to the stipes afterwards, so It's Ella had used a heck of a lot of petrol getting to the front.

At break-neck speed, with Foreal now beautifully slotted in the trail her and a dickey leg that was about to falter, It's Ella should've been a sitting duck. Should've been, but wasn't. "Frig she went good," May said as he hopped out of the cart, shaking his head in disbelief. "She just did that on her ear, and look at her - she's not even blowing."

The pair had been greeted back by trainers David and Catherine Butt, and although thrilled with the victory their concerns now rested solely on It's Ella's condition. She'd visibly been favouring the leg on her way back from the birdcage, and when David asked her to be walked briskly to the wash so he could see for himself, It's Ella was definitely tender and dipped even more noticeably in her action. "Yep, she's finished I'd say," Butt lamented. "The ol' leg's worn out. She's got a low bow in her leg, below the fetlock, which is one of the worst places they can go in the tendon. It's an injury she's had for a while and it flared up again, but she's one of those amazing mares who doesnt feel pain. It had gotten worse though, and she'd been pulling up sore - we've only swum her for the last fortnight."

Raced by Jim and Irene Holland together with Megan McLellan, wife of the mare's former trainer Brendon, It's Ella was spelled due to injury this time last year after taking out both of the big mares races at Addington. Sighted again in October, she managed another 11 outings in her comeback and took her win tally from 13 to 16 for nearly $300,000 in stakemoney. It was always the plan to retire her for good after this Friday'd NZ Breeders Stakes anyway, being in foal to Falcon Seelter - it's just become nesessary a week ahead of schedule.

So it's finally over for the super Washington VC mare. There's a saying that first impressions last, and It's Ella certainly made a decent one when winning on debut at Ascot Park in February three years ago. But for mine it's her last race that'll stick with me, because that is the night when It's Ella overcame all sorts of adversities to go out on the highest of notes. And had it not been for a freakish performance of Nick Off Holme on Cup Day, It's Ella would've been taking a national record with her...

Credit: John Robinson writing in HRWeekly 30Jan08



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