Benalla finished its racing season on a high last Friday with beautiful weather, track in great shape and nine trainers taking out the nine races on the cards.
But Luke Nolen, famous for riding Black Caviar to 22 of her 25 wins, was just as determined to make his mark at Benalla as he was at Royal Ascot.
And he did.
He came out in the fifth on the somewhat inconsistent Under No Prussia to win the $22000 CA Sinclair Pork Wholesalers Maiden Plate for fillies and mares over 1406m.
Before the race trainer Chris Ledger said his four-year-old was not far away from a win.
And felt the horse would benefit from a rare inside draw in the field of 13.
‘‘When you have Luke Nolen aboard you don’t have to worry too much, he knows what he is doing, so we pretty much left it to him,’’ Ledger said.
‘‘She normally gets a bit back in her races, so we were hoping today we could set her midfield and not give the leaders too much of a head start.
‘‘She has a great finish, but just tends to be coming from a long way back.
‘‘So we had held off to find a 1400 and thought this was an ideal time for her.
‘‘If the tempo is a bit slower in the early stages and she can run to the line like she has been she will be a chance.’’
And except for the start, where she finished near the back of the field, that’s exactly what she did.
Sent out at 11/2 by gun-shy punters, Under No Prussia was beautifully ridden by Nolen and patiently threaded a path through the field before catching Yulong Bao Jun at the 50m mark and running away at the line.
‘‘That’s Luke for you,’’ Ledger said.
‘‘He gave her a great run and it was a good win for the horse and for the connections.
‘‘I really liked the last 50m, Luke gave her one behind the girth and she really looked as though she stretched out, so I think going forward we will have a lot of fun with her.’’
Ledger said he would take the mare home; see how she pulled up and then look for another race — certain to be around 1400m to 1600m, although Ledger thought she might eventually go a bit further.
Nolen said the horse had stepped better from its stall and was quickly covered up by Maeleena and dragged up a bit further as a result.
‘‘She’s got genuine speed, I felt, for this class, got into race and ran well — she is definitely turning in the right direction,’’ Nolen said.
Thirty minutes later Nolen was fronting up for the $20000 BM64 Sam Miranda Wines Hcp 1406m on Rhyola from the Peter Morgan stable.
Rhyola had been a winner at Benalla on March 18 — also over 1400m — before struggling through a mile here on April 5 to finish fifth out of eight.
Rhyola ran a nicely paced run before setting out after the leader Roc of Mahal and Vladivostok.
At the 200m Rock of Mahal hit the wall as Rhyola loomed up on the outside with Valdivostok taking the lead on the inside.
It boxed on but once Rhyola stretched out it jumped away to collect its third win in eight starts at the generous odds of 9/2.
Morgan said it was a ‘‘good performance from him, he tried right to the line’’.
‘‘For a while back in his prep he didn’t try that hard, but I think we’ve got him right now.
‘‘He’s bred to go a bit of distance, but I’m not sure he stayed the mile at that last start.’’
The mile might be a bridge too far at this stage, but dropping back to the seven furlongs on Friday made a world of difference.
With Nolen latching on to a beautiful trail up the horse with the noted big finish delivered.
After the race he said the four-year-old gelding travelled nicely in a winning spot.
‘‘Rhyola started building his tempo nicely between the half mile and 700m,’’ Nolen said.
‘‘But he still had to knuckle down and chase hard, but he prevailed today; so it was a good effort.
‘‘I wasn’t confident we had it until we drew level; then I thought it was ours.
‘‘He’s got a bit of bulldog in him, so I was glad to see him tough it out today.’’