Loving Gaby created history on Friday night as she delivered a first Group One success in Australia for owners Phoenix Thoroughbreds when winning the Manikato Stakes at Moonee Valley.
Her victory also saw her become the first three-year-old filly to win the race since it was granted top-level status back in the late eighties. As a juvenile the daughter of I Am Invincible had always threatened to take Group One honours, going close on four separate occasions. All that promise came together on Friday as the Ciaron Maher trainee put in a superb display under an excellent ride from Craig Williams.
Drawn just on the outside of favourite Bivouac in barrier two, Williams showed his intent making sure his mount used her fast break to maintain her position. With her market rival shuffled back in the pack Loving Gaby sat in third place during the early stages of the 1200m contest. Rounding the turn, she looked to be travelling like the winner but was momentarily stuck in behind the leaders. Unflustered, Williams waited for his opportunity to angle his partner out and when he did ‘Gaby’ responded and hit the front. A few late challengers emerged, but in the end, she won with a bit in hand.
“I can’t do it without the horse,” said a modest Craig Willaims post-race. “David and Ciaron spoke to me before and said it would be an advantage to hold my position from the barriers as long as possible. I had the right horse to get out and utilise the draw. I was looking to follow Bivouac but she jumped really well and she was quite keen. She’s pulled up so well it feels like she could go around again!”
The filly named in honour of a departed family friend of Phoenix’s Head of Legal Teresa Starr (read more here) has become a firm favourite among the team at the innovative investment fund and won plenty of fans during her incredible juvenile campaign.
“It’s just a bit of a relief for this horse,” Said trainer Ciaron Maher after thanking the owners and team. “She’s always had the ability and in her last prep she was very unlucky in a few Group Ones. To get the job done is fantastic and I’m really pleased to get one for Phoenix.”
It came as a surprise to many that Loving Gaby even took up this engagement with Maher hinting a step up in trip might be the plan after a defeat in Group Three company on her previous run.
“She got out to a mile first prep just on ability,” said the trainer explaining his change of heart. “When she came back in she was a bit stronger and her work was really sharp. I just thought she might get herself undone if we went to a mile this time. She ran so well on her last start here we thought we’d roll the dice with the weight drop.”
Maher was also vociferous in his praise of the part co-trainer Dave Eustace played in this landmark moment who was as equally delighted with the result.
“It’s an absolute pleasure to be involved with these top-level horses,” said Eustace. “I feel very lucky to be part of an amazing team.
“Loving Gaby is very good, and we’ve always had huge faith in her. She’s been knocking on the door at Group One level, so this means a lot.”
Purchased as a yearling at the Inglis Easter sale for A$500,000 the victory in the Manikato Stakes takes Loving Gaby’s earnings to beyond A$1million.