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Zardozi stars with brilliant G1 Oaks victory

Dave Murray

A smart breeding strategy, plenty of patience and a long-range plan all came to fruition when petite Godolphin filly Zardozi demolished her rivals in the G1 VRC Oaks (2,500m) at Flemington on Thursday.

Courtesy of a perfect ride by champion jockey James McDonald, Zardozi came from midfield in the run to burst clear at the 300m pole and raceway to beat Aethelflaed by 2.25 lengths.

Basilinna was 4.25 lengths away in third place.

The three-year-old Kingman filly has blossomed since James Cummings brought her to Melbourne and she gave her trainer his second win (Willowy, 2021) in three years in “Australia’s first fillies classic”.

The Cummings family is synonymous with the Oaks.

James’s grandfather, Bart, won nine editions of the race and his father, Anthony, was successful last year with She’s Extreme.

James paid great credit to his training and bloodstock team after Zardozi, out of the English mare Chanderi, took her record to five wins and a placing from just nine starts for prize-money earnings of $973,700.

“All G1s are special, but this is the time-honoured VRC Oaks,” an excited Cummings said. 

“It’s a great exercise in patience and to have a bit of belief in your horse.

“She’s a granddaughter of a very, very talented Dalakhani mare and those bloodlines came to the fore.

“It’s a great recipe – find some European staying blood and send them to a trainer in Australia.”

Cummings said McDonald rode a superb race, allowing Zardozi to relax midfield before going through her gears at the top of the home straight. 

“I enjoy working with James, he’s got the ability to listen but he has his own thoughts and can execute,” the trainer said.

“He can ride a horse to their strengths and he rode this horse to her strengths, which is her acceleration.

“And she accelerated like a genuine G1 horse, so it’s well and truly deserved for Zardozi.

“She’ll go away for a well-earned spell now, a VRC Oaks goes onto her pedigree page and it’s absolute gold for her.

“She’s by Kingman and incredibly valuable, and it’s a big result for the farm and big result for my training team.

“They had plenty of belief in her and stuck to their guns, and James rode the filly quiet from the draw."

It was McDonald’s first VRC Oaks victory but came just five days after he partnered Riff Rocket to win the VRC Derby (2,500m) for the three-year-old colts and geldings.

“I’m very lucky to be riding such beautiful horses in such prestigious races, and it’s a privilege to be winning Oaks and Derbies,” the New Zealand horseman said.

“It’s been a great week over the years and it’s every jockey’s dream to come here and ride for big connections and ride big winners.”

Godolphin managing director Vin Cox and his bloodstock manager Jason Walsh also took particular satisfaction in cheering home Zardozi.

The pair worked closely to plan the mating of Chanderi to Kingman in the northern hemisphere.

Walsh said the Australian operation was offered mares from Europe that otherwise would have been sold.

“We didn’t take all of them, but we took Chanderi,” Walsh said.

“Then it was a question of what stallions were available to us up there to add some different bloodlines to what we were doing here.

“Kingman had proven himself a really important sire in Europe and that sort of diversity we know works out here and gives us another proven option for a young mare to start off.”

Zardozi was given plenty of time to develop a big engine.

“Physically she was nothing to write home about, but clearly she has a big motor,” Walsh said.

“When you get to see them halfway through their three-year-old year and they are winning Oaks, you learn that physical maturity for that style of horse isn’t going to be there at the same stage as it is for an Australian horse.

“She just continued to progress through her development, she’s a filly that, to be honest with you, the further she went and closer to entering training the more she impressed.”

Willowy, who coincidentally is now in foal to Kingman, had some problems and didn’t race again after winning the Oaks.

Zardozi looked bright and fresh after her race but will head straight to the spelling paddock with some important targets in 2024.

“There’s another mile-and-a-half feature in the autumn (ATC Oaks) for her so I’d imagine that’s our target before she turns four,” Walsh said.

“It’s a bit of a focus of ours in trying to target these staying events with this style of filly.

“She’s an exciting filly because she clearly stays well and she’s dominated here against her own age and sex.

“We’d very much love to see her continue to develop into a feature Cups mare for us when she’s a bit older.

“It’s an aspiration and she looks capable of fulfilling it.

“She loves Flemington clearly and that might open up some options.”

Earlier in the day, stablemate Spacewalk appeared certain to notch his second win of the carnival before being edged out by Najem Suhail in the Listed Century Stakes over the straight 1,000m course.

Winner of the G3 Rising Fast Stakes over 1,200m last Saturday, when he relegated Najem Suhail into third place, Spacewalk (McDonald) grabbed the lead with 150m to go before the winner came back to score by a short-head. Halvorsen was third, 1.75 lengths away.