Kilgravin graduate Zurella (NZ) raced into Oaks and Derby contention at Te Rapa on Saturday with an impressive win in the eighth leg of New Zealand Bloodstock's Filly of the Year Series, the $100,000 Group 2 Cambridge Stud Sir Tristram Fillies Classic (2000m).
The Zabeel Filly trained by Shaune Ritchie and ridden by the in-form James McDonald, Zurella (Zabeel x Doneze Girl), was ridden mid-field and held off the game Series leader Planet Rock (Fastnet Rock), race leader Capital Diamond (Lucky Unicorn) and Quintessential (Fast 'N' Famous) in the straight to win by a long head.
Zurella had not been seen at the track since her unplaced run in the Group 2 New Zealand Bloodstock Royal Stakes on New Year's Day where a combination of factors including the slow track saw her turn in an uncharacteristic performance.
A winner of the Group 3 Eulogy Stakes two starts ago, Zurella's victory on Saturday has taken her to second place on the Filly of the Year table with 14 points, six points behind the leader Planet Rock who remains on 20 points.
The Group 2 win has also propelled Zurella to Group 1 New Zealand Oak's favouritism at $4 with Silent Achiever at $6 and Chicharita and Planet Rock at $8. She is also at $9 for the Group 1 New Zealand Derby on 3 March.
"She has come through the race in good order and I think that she will get even better," commented Rick Williams, General Manager of the Oaks Stud who race Zurella. "We now have to look at whether we send her to the Oaks or the Derby so we will be sitting down with Shaune (Ritchie) later this week to discuss our options."
Bred by Karreman Bloodstock, Zurella is raced by The Oaks Stud and has now won four of her six starts, two at black-type level, from only six races for over $115,000 in stakes.
Carrying the sponsor's colours, Capital Diamond (NZ) (Lucky Unicorn x Diamond Smile) continues to produce tough performances in the Filly of the Year Series and ran a close second in Saturday's Group 2 after finding herself in the lead.
Trained by Lisa Latta, the three-year-old has now placed in the Group 1 New Zealand Bloodstock 1000 Guineas, Group 3 Eulogy Stakes and was only beaten a nose in the Group 3 Desert Gold Stakes at her last start.
Capital Diamond's second placing earned her four points, taking her to third place in the Series with a total of 12 points. She is currently at $12 for the Group 1 New Zealand Oaks.
Last start Group 3 Desert Gold Stakes winner Quintessential (NZ) (Fast 'N' Famous x Florette) was impressive and ran on well after an economical trip to claim third place. In just a short career the John Sargent trained filly has won three of her six starts and claimed a further two points in the Series on Saturday.
Now in fifth place in the Filly of the Year Series with eight points, Quintessential shares the fifth line of betting in the New Zealand Oaks with Capital Diamond at $12.
Series leader Planet Rock (Fastnet Rock x Akris) ran on well for fourth place in the Group 2 after drawing wide and still carries a six point buffer in the Series with 20 points.
"She pulled a little during the running and that in combination with the wide draw probably cost her in the end," commented co-trainer Peter Williams. "She has come through the race well and she will now go straight to the New Zealand Oaks."
The penultimate leg of New Zealand Bloodstock's Filly of the Year Series, the $70,000 Group 3 Lowland Stakes (2100m), will be held in Hawke's Bay on 3 March with the final leg, the Group 1 New Zealand Oaks, held on 17 March at Trentham.