Teodore Nugent returns to the mounting yard aboard Air Defence after winning the VOBIS Gold Reef at Moonee Valley Racecourse on March 13, 2021 in Moonee Ponds, Australia. (Brett Holburt/Racing Photos)

March has been a month to remember for Merton Creek Thoroughbreds owners Neil and Sunny Mitchell and their long-time client Dr Dawn Giltinan.

It started with a Highland Reel filly at the Inglis Melbourne Premier Sale and reached a crescendo when Air Defence scored a narrow victory in the $200,000 VOBIS Gold Reef (1600m) at Moonee Valley on Saturday.

“Air Defence was born and raised here and it was such a courageous win,” Sunny said from Merton Creek which is situated near the Maroondah Hwy between Euroa and Mansfield.  “We were all on Cloud 9 especially Dawn who is a strong supporter of Super VOBIS.”

Giltinan had purchased his dam Jomar Star (Johannesburg) from Queensland and her first foal down here was Travail (Reward For Effort) who won a Wangaratta maiden for trainer Shane Fliedner.

“Jomar Star went Stryker second-up but he wasn’t in vogue by the time we took Air Defence to the 2019 Melbourne Gold Sale,” Sunny recalled.  “He was a stunning yearling and Shane bought him wholly and solely on type.

“We were disappointed he only made $4,000 but Shane’s a good horseman and we were pleased he was the buyer.”

Air Defence didn’t race at two and won a Kilmore maiden during a short spring prep in October. He resumed with a placing at Bendigo before making a quantum leap in the VOBIS Gold Reef which was the curtain-raiser to the $5 million All-Star Mile.

“He’s a nice horse and tough, too,” Fliedner declared as Teo Nugent brought the Stryker gelding back to scale. “Everyone gave us no hope but I thought he was a chance and everything went to plan.

“I told Teo to make the 200m mark the winning post and see what happens – he loves the wet and rolled to the front early.  He was out on his feet at the finish but full credit to the horse.

“There’s a lot of people that have a share and they’re pretty happy. Air Defence has always shown us ability and we will get him ready for the Bendigo Guineas (1400m) on March 27.  It’s probably a shade short for him but you never know and I would like to have a runner at our home track.”

Another likely target is the $475,000 VOBIS Sires Guineas (1600m) at Caulfield on April 17.

Meanwhile, the Mitchells and Dr Giltinan will be following the career of the Highland Reel – Dazzledar (GB) yearling filly that sold for $150,000 at Melbourne Premier.  “There was plenty of interest in her at Oaklands,” Sunny recalled.  “At one stage, I was pretty sure she was going to go to Chris Waller.

“As it turned out, Brett Howard from Randwick Bloodstock bought her on behalf of Lex and Sandy Tall from NSW.  They had come down specifically to inspect her because they had already raced a winner from the family.”

The Highland Reel filly is a half-sister to South African stayer Kinaan (Galileo) who won a LR Kenilworth Cup and Hunting Tower (High Chaparral), a Geelong winner at his only start for Mick Price.

Her residual value is another highlight.  Second-dam Razzle (Danzig) is a sister to Danehill!

“Dawn has a 2yo colt by Sooboog from Dazzledar with Mick Kent and the mare foaled a filly by Palentino last October,” Sunny said.  “She follows all her foals whether she’s in the ownership or not.  Her life revolves around them and fundraising for the less fortunate through Rotary.”

Stryker now stands at Victoria’s Platinum Thoroughbreds commented, “Air Defence showed Stryker can sire a good horse and he’s also won at Morphettville on Adelaide Cup day,” Platinum owner Rene Hoefchen said. “He was in the NSW Riverina with Tammy Basham but she called us and said the horse deserved more opportunities and would be better off back in Victoria.

“Stryker is one of the better second-tier stallions here and we are standing him alongside Scorpz (NZ) whose first foals will be on the ground this spring.  They are both available at a $5,500 service fee.”