Above: Bella Vella

Bella Vella (Commands) has already taken part-owners David and Kayley Johnson of Rushton Park to the heights of a Group 1 victory and the ultra-consistent mare will be looking to revisit that summit when she contests Friday night’s G1 Manikato S. at Moonee Valley.

The Johnsons had already had a handful of horses with Adelaide-based trainer Will Clarken when, looking through an Inglis Digital Sale catalogue in April 2019, they came across a Commands mare they thought might be worth a shot at getting back to the track after she had failed to get in foal to Criterion (NZ).

“We’ve had some horses with Will prior to Bella Vella coming along and we are always on the look out for a nice tried horse. We were all trawling the online auctions one day and what we usually do, when we find something we like, we will ring Will and say have you seen this?,” Kayley Johnson told TDN AusNZ.

“He’d seen her at the same time and we then went back to Brett Howard from Randwick Bloodstock, who is also involved, and said let’s see if we can buy her. We liked her, liked her form and liked her pedigree. We thought we’d have a dabble and we ended up getting her.”

“We liked her, liked her form and liked her pedigree. We thought we’d have a dabble and we ended up getting her.” – Kayley Johnson

She was purchased for $22,500 by John Kelton, one of Clarken’s best supporters, and the aim was to get her to at least recoup her purchase price. At that stage, she had shown some ability, winning three of her 13 starts, and with such a relatively small investment, one metro win in Adelaide would get her investors back to square.

“We work on the theory that we might drop them back in class by sending to Adelaide these mares that have shown some good Sydney and Melbourne form. I guess we like to think they are metropolitan quality mares and that they can pay for their own preps if we buy them,” she said.

“You’d love to get a Listed race, and that was probably all we were hoping for with her initially.”

Three wins in her first preparation for her new owners easily got back her purchase price, but Clarken sensed there was something not quite right with the mare.

“She always had the definite speed there, but she had a niggling problem in the wind. Will managed to find what he thought that was after a fair bit of searching. So she had a little bit of laser surgery, and that is what has found her the extra few lengths,” Johnson said.

That ‘extra few lengths’ not only saw her claim her first stakes success in the Listed Railway S. at Morphettville in April, it also saw her cause an almighty upset when leading all the way in the G1 Robert Sangster S. at the same course in May.

In doing so, she became the first Group 1 graduate from an Inglis Digital Sale, providing further impetus for an online market that has grown in quality and popularity at a huge rate over the past few years, no more so than during the COVID-era.

To sell, or sit?

Suddenly in the possession of a Group 1-winning mare, the Johnsons and the fellow owners had a decision to make as to whether it was better to trade Bella Vella while her form was particularly current, or retain her for another racing preparation.

“Originally the target might have been to send her through a broodmare sale. But everything happened with COVID-19 and we weren’t really sure what was going to happen in the market. We didn’t even know at that stage if we were going to be able to have a sale,” Johnson said.

“We made the plans that we would look to race her on, and it was so uncertain in the months after she won the Sangster, that we thought then, we might put her out and try for some spring targets.”

Again, that has proven a great call. Bella Vella resumed with a narrow victory in the G2 McEwen S. at Moonee Valley in September and then ran a mighty race in the G1 Moir S. at the same track, beaten less than 1l when third behind Pippie (Written Tycoon).

That performance and a subsequent strong trial at Gawler has given Clarken and her owners the confidence to press on to Friday night’s Manikato S., where she tackles several of her Moir rivals again, including the two horses that beat her home, Pippie and Trekking (Street Cry {Ire}).

“There’s obviously some speed horses in the field like Pippie, that we expect will head to the front,” Johnson said.

“That outside gate (10) might be a little further out than we would have liked to have drawn, but I think our intention will be to try and get the best spot we can and see how it pans out.”

Testing the market in 2021

While Rushton Park, which is located at Murchison in Victoria, would make a nice home for Bella Vella during her broodmare career, Johnson says the nature of the ownership group will likely mean she heads to market in 2021.

“The thoughts are that she will go through a sale. There are a few people involved in her now and she will likely go through one of those big sales next year,” she said.

Bella Vella not only boasts a Group 1-winning resume, but has a strong international pedigree as well, with her dam, Forget The Weather (USA) (Stormy Atlantic {USA}), a half-sister to three American stakes winners, Wedlock (USA) (Maria’s Mon {USA}), Ever After (USA) (Kris S {USA}) and Extrovert (USA) (Wild Again {USA}).

“She’s also got a great broodmare sire in Commands there and that helps,” she said.

Tinker emerges as a potential star

Bella Vella won’t be the only horse Rushton Park will be cheering in a stakes race this weekend, with talented New Zealand-based filly Tinker McPhee (Nostradamus), who the Johnsons bred in partnership with David Raphael, to take on the G2 James and Annie Sarten Memorial S. at Te Rapa on Saturday.

A leading hope for the G1 New Zealand 1000 Guineas, Tinker McPhee is currently trained by Simon and Katrina Alexander, but will join the Chris Waller stable in 2021 after she was purchased by stable clients this week.

“David bought the mare, Five Rocks, and we were underbidders and we approached him afterwards and said we were keen on her and could we work something out,” Johnson said. “He said he didn’t have a farm, and we said we’d love to have the mare here and play around with a few breeding options.

“She came down to us, and foaled a Eurozone filly, which she was carrying at the time. We had a share in Nostradamus and we were looking at what would work with her pedigree, and it was quite a good match for her both on pedigree and physically. We thought we’d have a little dabble with that and see what we get.

“We got a cracking filly. She was a beauty, probably the nicest one we have had from the mare. She was just a leggy athletic sort of filly, but she was a little tricky in terms of getting her into sale.”

“We got a cracking filly. She was a beauty, probably the nicest one we have had from the mare.” – Kayley Johnson

Uncertain that she would be able to get into a yearling sale, Rushton Park took the decision to sell her as a weanling through the 2018 Inglis Great Southern Sale in Melbourne.

“We all loved her but we were a bit devastated when she only made $16,000. We were hoping she would get a bit more just on her physical. Richard Boyd was the lucky winning bidder and had loved her from the first time he saw her,” she said.

“He gave her plenty of time and sent her to his friends in New Zealand, who have trained her and they have done a great job with her so far.”

Above: Tinker McPhee

Tinker McPhee has burst to prominence with her 4.75l win in a Matamata maiden earlier this month, and she was quickly snapped up by similar interests to those which have successfully raced G1 Caulfield Cup winner Verry Elleegant (NZ) (Zed {NZ}).

“The plan is to give her a couple of runs over there. She contests a Group 2 this weekend and then all going well, she heads to the Group 1 over there in a couple of weeks, and then after that she heads to Waller’s stable,” Johnson said.

Her dam, Five Rocks (Fastnet Rock), has recently foaled a Snitzel colt and has since visited Puissance De Lune (Ire).

The prospect of another stakes winner coming from off Rushton Park is a huge boost to the farm during a busy foaling and breeding season.

“It’s what every farm aspires to. You want to be breeding really good racehorses. We have had a lot of winners come off the farm, but black-type horses aren’t very easy to get, so it’s nice to have one that is thereabouts,” she said.

Article courtesey of Bren O’Brien TDN