High school sweethearts vying for first stakes win

Trainers Sarah and Matthew Smith with Diorissimo. Photo: Wild Range Photography

A pair of bargain buys at the New Zealand Bloodstock May Sale in 2014 could lead to the biggest day in racing for Ashburton trainers Sarah and Matthew Smith.

The husband and wife team headed north to Karaka five years ago to acquire some future racing stock and came home with Diorissimo and Splendior, who they purchased for $1300 and $300 respectively. “I had marked Splendior in the book, I liked that family and I liked her,” Sarah Smith said. “We hadn’t marked Diorissimo because being a supplementary entry she wasn’t in the catalogue. We were just sitting in the outside ring and I saw her walk past and I thought she meant business. “She was never big, but just the way she walked caught my eye.”

Both mares will start at Riccarton tomorrow, with Diorissimo being the headline act, lining up in the Listed Christchurch Casino Spring Classic (2000m). The couple are excited ahead of this weekend with Diorissimo vying to add a first stakes victory to the trainers’ tally. “It would be absolutely amazing, but we will just see what happens,” Smith said.

Smith hails from a harness racing and showjumping background, but said her interest in thoroughbred racing was piqued by her involvement with the breed in the show ring. “I started riding as a kid,” she said. “I was out competing at four in the show ring. Mum and Dad had standardbreds, so there has always been horses around. “I got up to Grand Prix at national level and all our ponies were part thoroughbred. I got a couple off the track when I finished university and did some showjumping. “My mother got given a thoroughbred that I pottered around with and it rolled on from there. We got a few hand-me-downs from people.”

Smith then decided to try her hand with breeding, however, her first foray ended in tragic circumstances. “I had a mare called Dior Rose, I got the papers for her and put her in-foal,” she said. “But I lost her and her colt foal, foaling. That is where the Dior comes from. They have all got Dior in their names in honour of her.”

While Smith was always destined for a life with horses, she said Matthew was less inclined until she became involved in racing and he eventually joined her in a training partnership in the 2015/16 season. “He hadn’t had a lot to do with the horses, he grew up in town,” she said. “We met at High School and as I got into racing he got more interested, he wasn’t too interested in the showjumpers.” Smith said they get great satisfaction out of doing all the work with the horses themselves. “We broke them in and Matt shoes them,” Smith said. “I do all the track work riding, so I get to know them pretty well, which is good.”

The Smiths are excited about the prospects of both of their mares ahead of the weekend. Diorissimo heads into the Spring Classic off the back of two runner-up performances in the New Zealand Cup Trial Handicap (1800m) and North Canterbury Cup (2000m). “It was a really good run in the North Canterbury Cup last start,” Smith said. “She did a bit of extra work out wide on the turn. “It wasn’t her ideal track conditions (Dead6) either. She goes on a heavy and a hard surface, but she doesn’t seem to like the sticky surface, so I am hoping it dries out a little bit. “She is a really honest mare. She always puts in 100 percent. With her draw (barrier three) on Saturday, she will hopefully get an easier run.”

Smith has been happy with the six-year-old and is hoping to gain some black-type with her mare who has been installed as a $4.60 favourite by TAB bookmakers. “I would love to see her in the top three and get some black-type,” Smith said. “We will just see what happens, it is a really nice field. “Her work has been good. We are aiming for the New Zealand Cup (Group 3, 3200m), so she has just been building up to that. “We would like to think she would get the 3200m. She did the 2500m reasonably well and she settles well. We’ll then look to possibly do a bit of travelling up north, there are some nice races up there.”

The Smiths will also line-up Splendior in the Pryde’s Easifeed Rating 65 (1600m) and the six- year-old mare is also heading into her race off the back of a nice runner-up performance over 1600m at Timaru last start. “She has come back a lot better this season,” Smith said. “We turned her out for quite a big break and she is progressing very well. Her work has been really good. “A wide draw (barrier 11) for her on Saturday is not ideal because she gets out of the gate pretty quick, so she might end up parked. But she just keeps trucking, she is another really honest mare. “I would like to get her over a bit more distance in the near future.”

Smith, a real estate agent, is currently enjoying a sabbatical from her job and is enjoying dedicating more of her time to her three-strong racing team and educating some younger stock. “I was doing real estate for the last three years,” she said. “I have done quite well, I was number one for PGG Wrightson for mid-South Canterbury. “I am having a wee break just to focus on the horses. We have quite a few young ones here now and with Matt’s business he has been very busy. “Our younger horses are just doing education work and we have also got a couple of foals this year, a Sacred Falls and a Shamexpress. They are lovely types, so it’s very exciting.”

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