"From the gutter to the throne."
The racetrack Joan of Arc in Sparks A Flyin, now the heroine of nine wins from 12 starts including the $100,000 Nevele R Fillies Final, and once the despair of trainer Cran Dalgety whose words these are. Once again, the filly of peasant stock showed that pedigree is little more than a paper passport with a command performance against the best fillies of her age.
Although beaten the week before in the Oaks by Shania Patron, there was more confidence in the camp with just a week between the races that she would turn the tables. "She was a bit sharper for this one," said driver Mark Jones. "There is not many that come from behind her and beat her. In a fight, she is too good," he said. Jones went out with the intention Sparks A Flyin would put these qualities on the line. She was never headed after a gentle first 600m before taking over at the 1400m and then running the race he planned. Kamwood Gal held second after a nice trail behind the winner, while A Little More Magic made strong headway to close on the pair quite noticeably.
Looking back, Dalgety can honestly say Sparks A Flyin was a trainer's nightmare. Anyone less professional would have said goodbye and good something to her long ago. Under duress, and with many a mild curse, Dalgety endured her irascibility and put aside personal embarrassment and indignity. He recalls taking her to a trial at Rangiora when she not only decided not to race but refused to leave the track. The only way she left was after Dalgety removed the cart and harness. Next time away from home, she didn't want to join the others on the mobile gate, so Dalgety ran 50 metres, holding her head, just to help her out. She ran and qualified, but Dalgety said he didn't get excited because he had some recovery of his own to do.
What made him so loyal to such a rascal?
"When Jim and Susan (Wakefield) bought her, it was mainly because we liked her. She was something of an underdog, and she only cost $11,000. But she was a handful to break-in, and in the end she just had to leave the property. She would try to run out of the gate, and if there was something to do wrong, she would do it. At this stage, we decided to give her the benefit of the doubt and Steve Hale took her away for a couple of months. He gave her one on one, and worked her round the roads in a big gig. This was a big turning point for her. It was an experiment rather than a yes or a no. Although she was anti everyone, she came back ninety-five percent better. What I liked about her was that even if you disiplined her hard, she would never sulk. She'd come back to you. Defeat wasn't part of her," he said.
The next learning curve in the life of hard knocks came when he sent Sparks A Flyin to a North Canterbury farm for a spell as a late 2-year-old. "She was with cows, and being treated like one. She got a lot of benefit from that, too," he said. There has been no stopping the progress Sparks A Flyin has made this season, moreso over the past six months.
"It was not until she had won her third race that I thought she was something better than average. That's when I stood to attention. I could see she was a horse that kept coming back for more. But there is nothing extra for her. Everything has to be simple. We now know what she wants," he said. In terms of training achievements go, Dalgety rates this at the top. "The odds were against us. From where we were, to where we are, is definitely remarkable," he said.
Credit: Mike Grainger writing in HRWeekly 16May01
Cran Dalgety stood patiently, waiting for the call. He had just watched the Wayne Francis Memorial NZ Oaks from in front of the public stand and like everyone his eyes were glued to the finish line as Sparks A Flyin and Shania Patron crossed it locked together.
You could tell Dalgety's instinct was worrying him; he knew what the judge's findings were going to be even before they barked across the loud speaker. "Favourites don't have a great record in this event," he muttered, shaking his head as he turned and walked away. He was right. But he wasn't feeling hard done by. Sparks A Flyin had gone to the front starting the last mile, pinged along at a super clip, and in the end done everything but win. Bombed late by a flying Shania Patron, a nose was the difference between Dalgety staying to give a victory speech, or heading back to the stables to un-gear a runner-up.
The man who did step up to the microphone was Shania Patron's driver Ricky May, and quite rightly so too because he and his parents Terry and Pat had looked after the Holmes Hanover filly since her fourth in the Southland Oaks on April 8. Shania Patron's first-up effort from her temporary base a week earlier was much better than the '0' in her formline reflected, and last Friday night her telling late strides were even bigger still and she thoroughly deserved her victory. "You just can't have them right all the time," Terry said shrugging off the suggestion that Shania Patron hadn't been at her best in recent weeks. She's a horrible track worker, we even ran her with Pure Adrenalin last week just to spark her up a bit."
Shania Patron is raced by Jim and Irene Holland, of Mokoreta Valley near Wyndham, together with the filly's trainer Brendon McLellan and his wife Megan. None of the quartet were on-course for the victory. "I asked Brendon if he was going to come up for the race, but he just said 'no, you'll do the job'," May continued. Jim and Irene are lovely old people, and we've trained horses for them for years; there has been so many of them I've lost count. One of their first winners with us was Adios Adieu, and the others include Young Beau, Elderberry and Some Legacy, who won the DB Fillies Final in 1990."
The McLellans dedicated Shania Patron's victory to Brendon's late mother Marlene, who died a month ago today (Wednesday) after a brief battle with cancer. "She got a lot of enjoyment out of following Shania Patron, so yes, this win is definitely for her," Brendon said. "I know her formline has not been the best lately, but she's been letting herself down. She's had a few niggly problems like over-racing and hanging during her events, and that has been enough to make the difference. Just in the last month I reckon she's come back to her old self again."
McLellan says he can't remember when there was ever a better crop of 3-year-old fillies, and that the results in races like the Oaks and this week's Nevele R Fillies Final come down to luck in the running. "Shania Patron was always going to have a broodmare career, winning a race like this is the icing on the cake." he said.
Credit: John Robinson writing in NZHR Weekly
Jim Holland thought he would "go up" to see Shania Patron race in the Air New Zealand Sires' Stakes Fillies Championship at Addington. But from his farm in the deep south, 17km out of Wyndham, he thought against it when he saw she had drawn the outside of the front line. He admits that he is not as agile as he once was, and that was a reason, too. "I am coming up 82 in July and my legs have packed up."
So he settled for Trackside and that would have been fine had it not been for the fog that came in thick and fast a race earlier, and made much of it a blur. But Jim had a good look at her in the straight, where she came with a determined finish for Ricky May - who considered the outside barrier a 20 metre handicap - from three-wide in the middle line to cruise past the plucky Tiger Turner and English Elegance.
By Holmes Hanover, the sire also of Tiger Turner, Shania Patron is a sister to the former grand 3-year-old No Return who won two legs of the John Brandon triple crown in the early 90's. She is raced by Jim, his wife Irene, and Brendan McLellan, who trains her and helps Jim look after his four mares and young stock. Jim sent four mares to the stud this season, but suspects three of them may not be in foal. Shania Patron is one of three fillies left by Patroness, an El Patron mare who died before her time after a kick in the ribs broke a blood vessel. Her last two foals were fillies - Shania Patron and a sister McLellan has in work at present.
Jim has been racing and breeding horses for more than 30 years, his best being his first, Adios Adieu, who won 11. The first horse he bred was Refluent, by Quiet Water, who won six from the stable of 'Ginger' Bourne. He sold a Holmes Hanover-Some Legacy colt at this year's yearling sales for $34,000.
From the time 34-year-old McLellan started training, he has had a horse of the Hollands'. The first was Boyden's Beau, who came from Terry May's stable after he had gone sore, and won five. He trained Anna Patron, by Armbro Raven from Patroness, and she won five before being sold and taking a 1:55 mark in America. And while Shania Patron has claims to being the best he has trained, that honour still rests with the speedy Happy Patron who won the sprint leg of the John Brandon series in 1989.
There is a strong chance that will change soon. The owners have already knocked back a six-figure offer, and McLellan says Shania Patron is still improving. "This race had always been at the back of my mind," he said, "and she is just got better with each start. We will probably look at the Caduceus Classic now in June 9, and make a late payment ($7500) for that," he said.
McLellan works a team of 14 and says the win has come at an ideal time. "I get married in July, so it is a big thrill to win a race like this," he said.
Credit: Mike Grainger writing in HRWeekly 31 May00