By Garrick Knight
Belle Of Montana confirmed her billing as New Zealand’s top race mare with an effortless win in the $100,000 Group 1 Queen of Hearts on Saturday night.
Driver Zachary Butcher had a relatively easy task once he found the front early on in the race, his mare’s clear class edge meaning opposing drivers were simply unwilling to challenge him.
As a result, the race was run in a relatively sedate 2.40.7, but punishing finals splits of 55.2 and 26.5 gave her the upper hand.
Trainer Barry Purdon said post-race that the Auckland Cup in just over two weeks’ time was off the table, but she might get a wee ‘taster’ against the boys early next month.
“There’s a rating 50 and faster programmed for Auckland Cup night, but I’m nut sure what sort of field that will be.
“Maybe we’ll go to the mile at Cambridge the week after. We’ll see.”
After that, it’s off to Aussie to tackle two key Group 1 races across the ditch.
“There’s a nice race in Melbourne at the start of February, the Ladyship Cup. I’d like to target that and then possibly the Ladyship Mile at Menangle.”
There are firm plans to tackle the open class ranks next season with the daughter of Bettor’s Delight.
“Next year she’ll be five and I really think we’ve got to have a go at the really big races like the (NZ) Cup.
“But for now, she’s only four and there are some good race against her own sex.
“We can space them out a bit and look after her.”
On hand to receive the trophy was Belle Of Montana’s Queensland owner, Dean Shannon, a self-made business tycoon with a real love of the horses.
“I’ve had seven or eight businesses over the years that I built up and sold.”
He’s had a longstanding relationship with Brisbane horseman Darrell Graham, who was also on course to celebrate, but Shannon decided to team up with Purdon two-and-a-half years ago, a move he’s never regretted.
“I’ve bought horses from the sales for the last 20-odd years.
“I decided I’d like to race a few here so I went to the sale and bought four, then I just needed a trainer to leave them with.
“I went and saw Barry and asked if he had any room for these horses that I’ve just bought and he was more than happy to.
“I’d met Barry and (wife) Katrina a few times over the years and they are really lovely people. And of course, he’s just an awesome trainer.
“Couldn’t be happier with my decision.
“And now I’m fully engaged in New Zealand racing. I’m watching it every weekend and know all the horses.”
Belle Of Montana, Shannon humbly concedes, was one he picked out on his own from the sale catalogue.
“She was on my short list and I came over and saw her in the flesh.
“I always spend a couple of days looking at all the horses I like and get the vets to go over them
“In my system that I use, she actually rated a nine out of 10.
“Being a three-quarter sister to Carabella I thought I’d have to pay $100,000 for her.
“So, I was stunned when I got her for $40,000 or $50,000, I can’t remember exactly how much.
“She was my top pick of the sale.”
Any while the other three Shannon bought in that first crop have ended up in Queensland with Graham, Belle Of Montana won’t be following suit.
“One hundred percent, she will be staying with Barry for good.
“She’s not going anywhere.”
Except, most likely, back to the winner’s circle.