Spratt scripts Telegraph upset with Mercurial

Spratt scripts Telegraph upset with Mercurial13 Jan 2024

Sam Spratt teamed up with arguably New Zealand’s most improved racehorse to land a boilover victory in Saturday’s Gr.1 JR & N Berkett Telegraph (1200m) at Trentham – her third time triumphing in a meeting that once came close to claiming her life.

Saturday’s Telegraph heroics aboard Mercurial came some 21 years after Spratt suffered severe head injuries in a shocking fall in an undercard race on Telegraph Day on January 25, 2003. She not only recovered but later made a triumphant return to the saddle, going on to join New Zealand’s 1000-win club and boasting 20 Group One wins and counting.

Spratt is now a three-time Telegraph winner, with Mercurial following in the footsteps of her old favourite Mufhasa (2009 and 2011).

“It’s 21 years ago almost to the day that I had my fall on this day at this track, so it was good to tick this one off,” Spratt said. “I don’t have any memory of it – it’s basically a year of lost memory, so it’s just what people say. I wasn’t really supposed to be riding again after it, but I’m too stubborn for that!”

Mercurial arrived at Trentham on Saturday as a last-start Group One placegetter, having finished third behind Waitak and Bonny Lass in the Sistema Railway (1200m) at Pukekohe on New Year’s Day. But the five-year-old flew under the radar as an $18 outsider in a field headed by Bonny Lass ($2.90) and Dragon Leap ($4.20).

Spratt showed her customary front-running prowess aboard Mercurial, recovering from an awkward start to charge forward and take up a position on the outside of Express Yourself.

The pace came right out of the race through the middle stages, causing significant interference to several runners in the chasing pack and leading Lincoln’s Kruz to dislodge jockey Jonathan Riddell.

Mercurial stayed well out of trouble and was full of running as he threw down the gauntlet to Express Yourself at the top of the straight. That rival rose to meet the challenge, and the pair went to war at the 300m.

Favourite Bonny Lass regathered herself after a rocky run and found the line strongly late in the piece, but it remained a two-horse battle to the line and Mercurial won it by a nose. Bonny Lass finished third, a neck behind the first pair.

“That was really good,” Spratt said. “He knuckled a little bit at the start, but he showed plenty of pace to get back up there. We managed to get some easy sectionals after that.

“He’s so tough. The more they came at him, the more he stuck his head out. I thought I might have had my nose in front on the line, but I wasn’t totally sure. I didn’t want to get too confident and excited. It was awesome to see the photo finish confirm that we’d won it.”

The Telegraph was the sixth win of a 27-start career for the Stephen Marsh-trained Mercurial, who has also had 11 minor placings. He has now earned more than $514,000 in stakes for an ownership group that includes his five breeders.

Mercurial was a Rating 75 winner at the equivalent meeting 12 months ago, and his first start in open company was in only March of last year. In his 11 starts since then, he has recorded two wins and six placings and established himself among the country’s top-flight sprinters.

“This is a massive thrill,” Marsh said. “If you’d asked me even six months ago whether this horse could win a Telegraph or a Railway, I wouldn’t have said he could.

“But he’s just so tough. A couple of people even said to me before the race that he’s so laid-back and such a good doer, it almost looks like he needs another run. He’ll go home tonight, he’ll eat up, and he’ll probably end up going around again on Karaka Millions night. He really is the man.

“He’s just one of those horses that works, eats, sleeps and performs. Every run this time in has been unbelievable.

“We got a beautiful run outside the leader today. They were clipping heels and in all sorts of trouble behind us, but Sam put him into a good spot and he’s just so tough. I actually thought we’d run second on the line, but we got the win.

“It’s a great team of owners. They bred him and have still got the mare. They all came to the Railway and they’re all here again today, so it’s a real thrill for them. I actually only got this horse because another trainer didn’t answer his phone, so I was only their second choice! But we’ve got them in the team and I think we’ll have them for life now.

“They don’t give Group Ones away, and there’s just nothing that beats it. It’s a great buzz.” – By Richard Edmunds, LOVERACING.NZ