Aqua d’Amore’s wire-to-wire victory in the $700,000 (Australian funds) weight-for-age major at 8-1 ended a string of near misses stretching back over the past year.
They include grade I seconds to Eremein in the Queen Elizabeth, to Tawqeet in the Caulfield Cup (a handicap), a close fourth in the W.S. Cox Plate and thirds in three other top-graded weight-for-age events.
Raced by syndicate headed by Sue Magnier, the now Gai Waterhouse-trained 5-year-old started as a wild-child with poor barrier behavior. It threatened to derail her track career.
Coolmore tried to sell the Caradale-bred distaffer in 2003, the fourth foal from U.S. mare Romantic, by Irish River (Fr) signed for at $350,000 by Tim Martin, at the Australian Yearling Sale. The sale was later canceled when she was found to windsuck.
As the $420,000 Futurity stake for her elusive grade I success swelled her earnings to $1,780,000, Martin might have endured an extra pang of regret. However, the rival Randwick trainer was too busy making history in becoming the first Australian conditioner to win the New Zealand Derby (NZ-I), with Danehill grandson Redoute’s Dancer.
Waterhouse and her staff gradually eradicated the mare’s appalling gate behavior, although it still occasionally revisited after her late 2005 and eclectic graded treble of the Eclipse Stakes (Aus-III), Villiers (Aus-II) and AJC Summer Cup (Aus-III), at 2,000 1,600 and 2,400 meters.
Despite some grand interim performances, the 109th Futurity under Stephen Baster was her first subsequent win, achieved by 1 1/4 lengths from Seachange (13-2). The leading NZ 4-year-old filly by Cape Cross had been expected to lead, but Michael Rodd was content to sit at the leader’s girth.
Slowish fractions made it extremely difficult for the back markers as the leaders went through the first 1,000 meters in 61.72 seconds, coming home the final 600 meters in 33.95 for a gross of 1:35.71. It was almost 1 1/2 seconds outside the race mark.
El Segundo jumped with the seven others as a heavy 6-10 elect, but his army of backers had to be concerned a long way from home. The favorite never threatened, finally just edging Red Ransom colt Red Dazzler (25-1) out of third, 2 1/2 lengths from the winner.
Aqua d’Amore will back up for the third successive Saturday on March 10 in the $1 million Australian Cup (Aus-I). The 145th running will be over 2,000 meters of Caulfield. Flemington is closed for major track repairs.
She may be in her final campaign, but this mare is as tough as any Danehill, and right now, she’s flying.